‘Free-from’ may become industry standard in snacking, Mintel analyst says

The gluten-free trend may have played a hand in the growth of other "free-from" trends in snacking, says Mintel

“Free-from” snack products are closer to becoming an industry standard, according to a report from Mintel.

These products, many of which claim to have no GMOs, fewer preservatives and fewer overall ingredients, are doing very well with a consumer base becoming increasingly dubious of artificial ingredients in food.

Billy Roberts, a senior analyst of food and drink at Mintel and author of the Free-from Food Trends US 2015 report, told BakeryandSancks that the gluten-free movement seems to have paved the way for many of these claims. Consumer interest in what is going into the products they purchase is greater than it has ever been.

“I would say there’s a strong interest among consumers in products they perceive as fresh and kind of from scratch,” Roberts said. “They’re trying to avoid the artificial and trying to avoid this feeling of preservative richness. Consumers really seem to be looking for that natural element; that ‘real’ food, as opposed to something that is a power in a box that has suddenly morphed its way into food.”

Clean snacking

While numbers from Mintel show that 94% of Americans snack daily and approximately 65% snack multiple times per day, more than ever are looking for a bit more purity in their snacks.

Forty-six percent agree that snacks “typically include controversial ingredients” than other food categories, Mintel’s Free-From report said, while 59% believe fewer ingredients in products mean they are more healthy. 

By the numbers

According to Roberts’ report:

  • 84% of Americans buy “free-from” foods because they want more natural or less processed food
  • 43% agree free-from foods are healthier than those without such claims.
  • Interest in GMO-free foods ranks highest at 37%, ahead of soy-free (22%), nut/peanut-free (20%) and egg-free (17%).
  • 18% of Americans want a full list of ingredients related to food allergies on product packaging.
  • 60% of Millennials have potential to worry about potentially harmful ingredients, versus 55% of Generation X and 46% of Baby Boomers.

Even so, the numbers in the snacking industry look rather favorable for this trend in the snack industry, as 23% of new snack launches in 2014 claimed no additives or preservatives, 25% said it had low, no or reduced allergens and 21% low, no or reduced trans-fat.

“Overall, Mintel data indicates that consumers perceive foods with any free-from claim to be both healthier and less processed,” Roberts said. “Additionally, consumers appear to be equating genetic modification, artificial and unhealthy as one and the same, and those consumers are likely to turn away from product labels with unfamiliar ingredients or ingredients perceived as chemically complex or unnatural.”

Recently, Kellogg and General Mills both made noise in the industry by declaring they would eliminate artificial ingredients over the next few years. Other companies, such as Kind, have seen huge growths in sales with fewer ingredients in its snack products.  

The ‘Holy Grail’ of snacking

Very few products can ever truly be perfect in the eyes of consumers, but Roberts said consumers may be willing to make sacrifices when it comes to attributes for certain products.

As an example, he recently finished a report on cookies which showed that going natural and healthy may not be what consumers look for in these sweet treats.

“Snacking is a little bit more motivated by the desire for a treat, that indulgence factor, and that need for convenience,” Roberts said. “It’s a little tougher to say consumers will necessarily hold tight to that desire for heath on everything.”

People aren’t necessarily looking for “farm-to-table” he said, but a large percentage of all age groups are looking for as close to that ideal as they can get.

“The Holy Grail is merging health with convenience with some free-from attributes,” Roberts said. “That’s certainly seen a lot form snack bars, and those will do well with consumers, particularly younger consumers.”

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