Free-from has hit the big time, according to speakers at a recent Food and Drink Innovation Network (FDIN) seminar, held last week.

Speaking at the ‘FreeFrom Allergy and Intolerance’ event, held at the Staverton Park Conference Centre on 22 September, David Jago from market research firm Mintel said UK retail sales of free-from food were set to hit £519m by 2016, and were still growing at nearly 10% year-on-year.

He added that, despite appearances, the dairy-free market has actually been growing faster than the gluten-free market.

The seminar, chaired by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, whose Foodsmatter websites are a major resource for food allergy/intolerance and free-from food, were the third on this subject to be organised by the FDIN.

Berriedale-Johnson said the underlying health problems and concerns which gave birth to the free-from sector in the 1990s had not lessened and, if anything, had become more acute. She said if the sector continued on its current trajectory, there was no reason why it should not become totally mainstream.

Berriedale-Johnson added that she felt there were huge opportunities for free-from manufacturers to supply the foodservice sector.

Other speakers included: Jeremy Woods, MD of Mrs Crimble’s; Lesley Cutts, a founder of the UK’s largest free-from online store Goodness Direct; and Julia Horlov of research and marketing insight consultancy McCallum Layton, who presented qualitative research on consumers’ attitudes to free-from.

Horlov said that awareness of free-from was now very high among the average high street shopper, and that the quality and availability of these types of foods had greatly improved over the past few years. However, she added that it was still hard and time-consuming to buy free-from if you had a serious allergy.