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The Free-From, Clean-Eating, Plant-Based, Gluten-Free Boom!

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​With the recent media attention surrounding Greggs’ new vegan sausage roll (the most hotly debated sausage roll since, well… the sausage roll), as well as the record number of people signing up to ‘Veganuary‘, there seems no better time to look at the impact of alternative diets to the UK food and drink industry.


Across the UK and internationally, the demand for vegan food is rising; the plant based market is now estimated to be worth more than £572 million in the UK. With that in mind, it’s not difficult to understand why retailers, alongside pub and restaurant chains, are making sure vegan options are part of their offering. Historically, there has been a limited availability of vegan manufactured food or drink available, however, the industry is proving, once again, its innovative flair. We are seeing start-ups take the lead in creating free-from products, however, the increased popularity of alternative diets is seeing established brands explore free-from versions. In the near future, there may no longer be a need for the free-from aisle, if manufacturers can offer plant based alternatives across their product range.

Greggs aren’t the only chain to be offering vegan alternatives – you can now find new menu items such as the first vegan four cheese pizza on the high street at Zizzi, a full vegan menu available at Vintage Inns and a Violife topped vegan pizza at Pizza Hut, which has now been rolled out nationally.


With 1% of the UK population having coeliac disease and approximately 10% avoiding gluten, the demand for gluten-free options is in such abundance that the free-from aisle may soon become a thing of the past. Innovation has led to some great products, such as fresh pasta from the Ugo Thrive range, as well as Clive’s Pies’ and Pieminister’s amazing convenience options, which provide inclusivity that actually tastes good!


Of course, creating great vegan and gluten-free products usually means the supplement of additives, which can be allergens in themselves. Many vegan products are soya or nut based, meat analogues can contain a lot of gluten, while gluten free products often contain egg. This doesn’t have to be the case however, as demonstrated by Ugo Foods. When they set about creating a vegan product for their Ugo Thrive range they weren’t satisfied to only make it vegan; they created a product that was also free from the top 14 allergens without synthetic additives. Creativity in NPD can achieve the seemingly impossible.


For many people, the reason behind transitioning to a free-from diet is due to the environmental impact of their dietary choices. There is a huge focus on the impact of the palm oil industry, with the sad plight of the orangutan highlighted by the Iceland Christmas advert. Large companies including Sainsbury’s and start-up companies like Pip & Nut have been doing their part to use sustainable palm oil or omit it entirely for some time now.


Away from palm oil, there are reports that the meat and dairy industries are responsible for more emissions than the fossil fuel industry. Scandinavian brand Oumph have created their ‘Epic Veggie Eating’ products, not just to respond to vegans, but for the good of the planet. Their plan is to decrease meat consumption and to encourage others to do the same.


When the Soft Drinks Industry Levy came into force, manufacturers and retailers were quick to respond with commercially viable solutions; including reducing the size of bottles, improving recipes and adding the levy to the retail price. Some companies, however, wanted to change the way we drink! Ugly Drinks led a revolution with their sodas; they contain 100% natural, fruit infused waters, no added sugar and no artificial ingredients. Dalston’s have also launched a new product to their Soda Light range this month to keep up with the growing demand for low calorie options without perceived ‘hidden nasties’.


Choosing a diet that falls into the realms of free-from can offer the consumer the option to eat ‘clean’ and feel that they are making a positive impact on the environment. Ultimately, consumers base their decisions on trust; they want to know the provenance of what they’re consuming. With fewer ingredients or additives, traceability becomes easier and trust is more readily gained.


The companies above have all invested in various aspects of this consumer-led demand for plant-based, allergen-free products and where they lead others will follow. The UK is fortunate to already have world leading skills and knowledge in product development, just look at the innovative products that have been created. It It makes great business sense to explore these markets to help maintain market share rather than lose to a savvy competitor.


Jonathan Lee Recruitment’s Food and Drink division offers clients a unique level of expertise in contract, interim and permanent recruitment solutions across three dedicated areas: manufacturing, supply chain and commercial.

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