Free-from is less a trend than a cultural shift, with customers making life-changing decisions to alter their diets. Alex Yau discovers how three retailers and three top suppliers are taking advantage

Free-from in…
The village shop

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Sales across free-from are definitely up, annually by 7%, and we now make £200 per week on dairy-free, sugar-free and gluten-free products. It’s gaining more of a mainstream appeal as shoppers are becoming more conscious about their health and they find it actually tastes better than products they replace.

We keep them in their own one-metre bay in our 1,200sq ft store, near the fresh section, as customers will actively seek the products out, so it’s best not to confuse them by scattering the category all over the shop.

Our best-selling products are own-brand from Spar, such as pasta, milk, pizza crusts and bread. Shopper habits are changing and I only see the market continuing to grow as existing and new suppliers come in looking to tap into the trend.

Joe Williams, Village Shop, Hook Norton

Supplier Advice

Go premium

Millennials are drinking less than their Generation X forerunners, so as well as the growth in premium alcohol, sales will continue to increase in premium non-alcoholic drinks. 

There is even a non-alcoholic botanical gin, yet it sits at the same price as a bottle of craft gin that comes with a full 40% proof. One of Cotswold Fayre’s top selling products is currently a champagne-style elderflower sparkling drink by Braes o Gowrie.

Paul Hargreaves, Chief executive, Cotswold Fayre

Free-from in…
The city centre store

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We’re based right in the city centre near the Northern Quarter, which is popular with university students as it is a trendy area. They’re more conscious of their overall health and are open to free-from regardless of whether they have an allergy to certain products or not.

That’s why it’s important for us to have a range of products and we have about three metres in our 3,000sq ft store dedicated to alcohol-free beer like Heineken or dairy-free products from Alpro and Rude Health. Keeping it simple works best. We place the free-from products in their own aisles or as ambient products near other categories which they go well with to increase impulse purchases. There is no point putting customers off by overcomplicating things.

We also do research by visiting Whole Foods or Planet Organic in other big cities with similar shoppers. What works well for them will probably work well for us.

Mital Morar, Ancoats General Store, Manchester

Supplier Advice

Alcohol-free is important too

Recently, we have seen a growing number of consumers opting for alcohol-free beer when out socialising; the category continues to grow in popularity, particularly among millennials, due in-part to consumers being more aware of their health and wellness. To make the most of this trend, retailers should ensure they stock a range of low and alcohol-free beer, to give those consumers options to choose from.

Jason Warner, President, AB InBev North Europe

Free-from in…
A low-income area

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More than 80% of my shoppers are elderly residents and the majority of them live in the elderly home which is just a five-minute drive away from the store. Many of them have intolerances and allergies to products such as gluten or dairy, so there is a market for free-from in the shop.

I’d say more than 10% of total sales come from free-from. We only started doing it about three years ago and increasing customer demand encouraged us to start being more proactive with the free-from category.  

Space is quite limited in our store, so we make the area stand out by sticking green dots on the price tags in our one metre gluten-free section. It means shoppers don’t have to become uncomfortable during a particularly busy period as they can pick up a product instantly.

Anita Nye, Premier Eldred Drive Stores, Orpington

Supplier Advice

Increase space

With the current market interest in free-from, not only from those with dairy or gluten intolerances, but from shoppers interested in the health and nutritional benefits of free-from foods, there’s a huge opportunity for retailers to drive sales within this sector.

As the trend has developed, we have seen a growing number of retailers dedicating more space to free-from products. We would always advise retailers to stock those beacon brands that shoppers will be looking for.

Nyree Chambers, Head of marketing, Grace Foods UK

Free-from in…
A food to go specialist

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We have students and university staff in the shop, but only 10% of overall sales come from alcohol. The attitudes towards food and drink are changing with those aged between 18 to 21-years-old.

They’re more concerned about their health these days and are after foods like free-from which aren’t as damaging to their health. That’s why we have about 30% of the store dedicated to items such as food to go from Costcutter and half of that is gluten-free. There’s also alcohol-free beer in the chilled area which helps a lot.

The students and faculty staff are all busy people and signposting the food helps a lot because they can just grab and go quite quickly as they go to lectures or the library to study. They can’t spend ages examining the ingredients on the back of packaging.

Arnaud Leudjou, Costcutter Brunel University, Uxbridge

Supplier Advice

Signpost free-from

The gluten-free market also works well with food to go as a trend. However, not many shops signpost this well. We sell more than three million sandwiches a week in our range across convenience which shows there is definitely a demand for gluten-free sandwiches.  

Many shoppers with gluten-intolerances don’t know they can get these products if they are not signposted properly. We recommend retailers should separate the products and give them their own separate section to help them stand out from each other.

Isla Owen, Senior brand manager, Adelie Foods