The UK free-from market could grow 13% to £531m in 2016 and climb to £673m by 2020, a new report by market analyst Mintel has claimed.

According to the report, 33% of UK consumers ate or bought free-from products in the six months to September 2016, with 22% buying or eating gluten-free products, and 16% wheat-free. Growth is being driven by new product development, with 12% of new food products launched in 2015 carrying a gluten-free claim, and 48% of those who eat free-from foods saying they were likely to eat more next year.

The data suggested interest in free-from products was more to do with health than the need to avoid allergens – 27% said they or someone in their household was avoiding certain ingredients as part of a healthy lifestyle, as opposed to 17% who reported an allergy or intolerance. Fifty-four per cent of free-from eaters claimed they would stop if they thought the products were less healthy than the standard version.

Kiti Soininen, head of UK food, drink and foodservice research at Mintel, said: “The free-from market enjoyed remarkable growth in 2015, and further growth is likely to come from the existing pool of users intending to spend more.

“The growing availability of free-from food and drink products at mainstream supermarkets has allowed established users to widen their repertoires, with easy availability potentially prompting more regular use.”

The report suggested that price was the key area holding back further growth – 39% of those currently not eating free-from products said they were too expensive compared to standard food. Taste and quality were also important, with 22% of non-users saying free-from products did not taste as good and 20% saying the quality was not as high.

Soininen said: “Among non-users, price remains a key barrier to wider adoption of free-from foods. This comes as little surprise given that the free-from variants of many staple foods are noticeably more expensive than the standard ones. The growth of the market should bring about scale benefits, helping to bring down prices to some extent.”