Whether following a diet due to health restrictions or simply making changes to boost vitality, one thing is certain: More people are steering clear of foods that leave them feeling sick and tired. The global “free-from” food market is thriving—Mordor Intelligence reports that the market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 9.5% during the forecast period of 2020-2025 (2). The report points to several major shifts driving growth:
  • Medical advancements have provided a better understanding of different responses from the immune system, which has enabled consumers to make conscious decisions regarding their food choices.
  • There is growing consumer awareness regarding the labeling of free-from options and product benefits.
  • An increase in innovative products that meet allergen-free requirements and provide nutritional benefits has attracted consumers.
Indeed, health-conscious consumers now have a delicious array of options. “The sensitive diet industry is expansive, and it’s more customizable today than ever before,” says Lucia Caamano, Brand Manager of Quorn Foods. “One meal or one diet does not fit all.” She adds that people are identifying the right foods for their body types and needs—“those that are easy to digest, offer beneficial nutrients and even help reduce symptoms of chronic illness. We see no signs of this slowing—people like personalizing their foods to their core beliefs, culture and general nutrition needs.”

To ensure that their personal needs are met, consumers are expecting transparency from their favorite brands, adds Lilly Miscoe, Owner of Lilly’s Foods. “Consumers who are conscious of allergens, sensitivities and intolerances are incredibly discerning when it comes to ingredients, labels and product loyalty.”

That said, nobody wants to sacrifice on flavor—and there’s no need to, says Matt Billings, Founder of AYO Yogurt. Brands are finding ways to make “free-from” foods delicious, and offering up greater variety. To that, David Perkins, Owner, Founder and CEO of Beetnik Foods, adds, “We have been seeing an expansion of ingredients in sensitive diets that have been around for a while. At the same time, more sensitive diets have emerged, some of which are more restrictive diets but with a great deal of overlap.”

Tracking the trends

Options that do not contain the top 8 allergens—wheat, milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, shellfish seafood and corn—are a priority for many, says Mareya Ibrahim, Founder and Co-Inventor of Eat Cleaner. And Doon Wintz, Founder of Wholly Wholesome/The Run-A-Ton Group, adds that consumers with sensitive diets prioritize food safety—especially when it comes to food allergies. “As a sensitive food manufacturer, our biggest focuses are to make the product taste as good as its conventional counterpart and address the consumer’s desire for food safety. We’ve been seeing more dedicated allergy-friendly production facilities and increased ingredient transparency,” he says. The brand’s top-seller list includes Wholly Gluten Free Pie Shells, which are made without milk, eggs, wheat, shellfish, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, or corn.

Increasingly, people are dealing with food intolerances like lactose and gluten—so much so that gluten-free is one of the top sensitive diet trends, notes Larry Praeger, CEO of Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods. “The number of gluten-free products will continue to rise,” he says, “and the market is also seeing an increase in the variety of gluten-free flour substitutes including flours made from beans, lentils and cauliflower, with fruit flours appearing as new trends.”

Also noting the increased variety, Deana Karim, CEO and Owner of Good Dee’s, says, “My mother is diabetic and I remember growing up and she had so few options in the grocery stores—many made with gluten and maltitol. Maltitol is a sugar alcohol that creates stomach upset if eaten in large quantities and it can still raise blood glucose levels in some individuals.” For those looking to avoid such ingredients, Good Dee’s sells low-carb and gluten-free mixes for cakes, cookies, muffins and more.

In terms of what’s new in gluten-free, Caamano says, “We’re seeing gluten-free foods made with ancient grains like quinoa and buckwheat, which provide benefits to those who are sensitive or allergic to gluten.”

Manufacturers are focused on making high-quality, balanced meals with clean ingredient decks, notes Perkins. Maker of low-sodium and gluten-free organic frozen meals, Beetnik’s top-sellers are Organic Shepherd’s Pie and Organic Grass Fed Beef Meatballs. Some of the company’s meals are compliant with both Whole30 and Keto diets, which apply to many sensitive diets.

Megan Devlin, Family Member of Karen’s Naturals, points out that in addition to gluten-free, consumers looking for low sugar options are driving the Sensitive Diets market, with Gen Z and Millennial consumers sparking new conversations and helping to bring to light today’s biggest trends. For a nutrient-rich treat sans added sugar, Karen’s Naturals offers freeze-dried fruits. “Our top-selling products remain our Just Strawberries and Just Strawberries and Bananas. Following those two product offerings, our other freeze-dried berry offerings continue to be very popular. In particular, our Just Blueberries carry with them all the health benefits of fresh blueberries, including fiber, potassium, folate, and vitamins C and B6.”

Speaking of plant-based: “We’ve even seen crossover within dietary needs, as plant-based and dairy-free cater to the vegan community,” says Miscoe. “Trending diets, such as Keto, have also allowed product innovators to morph plant-based, low-carb, high protein ingredients into diet-friendly snacks without sacrificing flavor or integrity.” Lilly’s top plant-based option is hummus, which appeals to vegans, vegetarians and ‘reducitarians’—what Miscoe calls individuals who reduce meat intake. Lilly’s Organic Keto-Cauliflower Hummus is vegan, gluten-free, Non-GMO Project Verified, and USDA Organic and Kosher certified, making it a fit for a variety of dietary needs.

Plant-based burgers, chicken, turkey and more are becoming well received by sensitive diet followers and the general population is seeing them as healthy options at mealtime, adds Praeger. “We anticipate the demand for clean ingredients and labels in these products to grow.”

Also offering products that appeal to a variety of sensitive diet consumers, including those who are lactose-intolerant and vegan, is Z Naturals Foods and their coconut milk. “Coconut milk is a delicious, plant-based alternative for those who are lactose sensitive, allergic to casein or allergic to animal milk,” says Jonathan Parker, Director of Nutrition Services. “Coconut milk is also a rare source of healthy saturated fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are keto-friendly and metabolized more efficiently than other fats.”

“Clean” is another key for many dieters, and companies are responding by “nixing the gums, additives and oils and even using healthier oils like avocado and coconut oils,” says Donna Gates, M. Ed., ABAAHP, Founder of Body Ecology and international best-selling author.

As demand for “free-from” products increases, stocking items that are clearly labeled is essential. Praeger explains, “We are seeing interest grow in this innovative category from gen-pop consumers as well as flexitarians, gluten-free and soy-free consumers.” It’s important to provide easily understandable nutritional labels, he says, and visible certification logos. In the gluten-free category, for example, retailers and brands can find information on certification by the Gluten Intolerance Group, including a list of 103 products from 21 brands that were certified at the close of 2019, atwww.gluten.org(3). The site also offers a community and resources for consumers, so it’s a great one to share with gluten-free consumers.

Special focus on low FODMAP

AsWholeFoods has previously reported, FODMAPs are non-digestible short-chain fermentable carbohydrates that aggravate gut symptoms, generally in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (4). The term stands forFermentableOligo-,Di-,MonosaccharidesAndPolyols, and these carbs are found in a wide variety of foods. “For 1 in 7 Americans, the presence of commonly found ingredients like onions or garlic, can trigger insufferable digestive distress,” says Steven Singer, Founder and CEO of Fody Foods. With that in mind, Fody Foods offers a range of certified low-FODMAP foods that are also vegan, gluten-free, and made with clean ingredients. Singer adds, “Fody’s onion and garlic-free pasta sauces, marinades, and condiments help people with digestive issues enjoy flavors and tastes in food they thought they couldn’t tolerate.”

A low-FODMAP diet can help control GI symptoms, notes Caamano. That said, customers should consult a healthcare provider before making diet changes. Caamano notes that there are some concerns when starting a low-FODMAP diet that should be relayed to the consumer. “Because the Low-FODMAP diet contains an ‘elimination’ phase that is needed to identify the foods that are aggravating symptoms, there can be some nutritional risks including micronutrient deficiencies and poor dietary fiber intake.”

For those who are advised to follow a low-FODMAP plan, they can do so deliciously with the help of products like Quorn’s number one Low-FODMAP certified option: Quorn Meatless Grounds (Mince), which is “Low-FODMAP designated” by Monash University, the worldwide leader in Low-FODMAP research and product certification.

Strategies for selling

In addition to ensuring space on the shelves and including educational materials and clear signage for customers, retailers should focus on transparency and their online presence to reach sensitive diet shoppers. “Natural product retailers can continue to be an ally to brands that create wholesome foods with consciously and carefully sourced ingredients by creating significant shelf space and calling out specialty attributes,” says Miscoe. “When consumers feel nurtured, cared for and understood, they convert into loyalists for both the brand and the retailer. Prioritizing brands that align with their values is a great way to build significantly more trust.”

Appealing to the younger generation, Ibrahim suggests retailers delve into social media, and foster peer-to-peer recommendations. Whether it’s reposting “before and after” pictures, engaging followers in giveaways and specials deals, lifestyle and product shots, or recipes, she says, retailers should be online.

As the demand grows, competition from conventional retailers also increases. But Perkins points out that conventional retailers are just starting to add these products on their shelves, while natural product retailers have primarily held the responsibility. Natural product retailers, he says, should focus on new emerging brands and products that are not widely distributed so they can continue to be a destination not only for natural products but for innovative new products.WF



1) CPG, FMCG & Retail, “How America Will Eat,” Nielsen.com. Posted 12-11-2019. Accessed 1/28/2020.www.Nielsen.com/us/en/insights/report/2019/how-america-will-eat  

2) Mordor Intelligience, “FREE-FROM-FOOD MARKET- GROWTH, TRENDS, AND FORECAST (2020 - 2025)” Accessed 2-7-2020. https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/free-from-food-market.

3) Gluten Intolerance Group. “Growing Recognition of the Value of Gluten-free…GFCO Program in November and December,”www.gluten.org.  Posted 1/2020. Accessed 1/2020. https://gluten.org/growing-recognition-of-the-value-of-gluten-free-certification-leads-to-103-products-from-21-brands-receiving-certification-from-gluten-intolerance-groups-gfco-program-in-november-and-december/

4) Julia Peterman, “Understanding FODMAP, Helping Customers Manage a Complex Diet,”www.wholefoodsmagazine.com. Posted 9-26-19. Accessed 2-7-2020.https://wholefoodsmagazine.com/columns/gluten-specialty-diets/understanding-fodmap/.