'Free-From’ Products Increasingly Relevant to Consumers

CHICAGO — Americans perceive foods bearing “free-from” claims as being closely tied to health and because of this, such products are increasingly relevant to U.S. consumers, according to new research released from global market research firm Mintel.

Eighty-four percent of Americans buy free-from foods because they are seeking out more natural or less processed foods. In addition, Mintel’s research found 43 percent of consumers agree that free-from foods are more healthful than foods without a free-from claim, while another three in five (59 percent) believe the fewer ingredients a product has, the more healthful it is.

Among the top free-from claims consumers deem most important are trans-fat-free (78 percent) and preservative-free (71 percent), Mintel reported. GMO-free claims also rank high (58 percent).

In fact, consumer interest in GMO-free foods (cited by 37 percent of all respondents) outweighs interest in foods free from soy (22 percent), nuts/peanuts (20 percent) and eggs (17 percent).

Another popular free-from claim for consumers is sodium-free (57 percent).

“Fat-free may seem like a claim whose best days are behind it, but there is strong consumer interest in such free-from foods, especially trans-fat-free. No doubt owing to widespread concern about obesity in the U.S. and its related health consequences," said Billy Roberts, senior food and drink analyst with Mintel. "Health issues appear to be top of mind among U.S. consumers when seeking products bearing a free-from claim, including those related to heart health and allergies."

Millennials (60 percent) and generation X (55 percent) are much more likely than baby boomers (46 percent) to agree that they worry about potentially harmful ingredients in the food they buy, Mintel discovered from its research. However, only 37 percent of consumers overall agree that products with free-from claims warrant a higher price.

Health and nutritional reasons were cited by 70 percent of Americans as the reason they buy free-from foods. Still, personal wellbeing is not the only driving factor, Mintel noted. Consumers also believe free-from foods are closely tied to the health of the planet.

Cage-free and free-range claims are important to 43 percent of free-from food purchasers, with about one-quarter (23 percent) ranking such claims as one of their top three most important free-from claims.

When comparing consumers’ view of free-from claims with environmental impact vs. claims such as trans-fat-free, environmental claims carry much less weight. Mintel's research, though, does show that 70 percent of Americans sometimes, often or always consider a company’s ethics when purchasing products. Furthermore, 56 percent of Americans have stopped buying a company’s products when they have perceived the company's actions as being unethical.

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