Sales are soaring of foods free from ingredients such as nuts and wheat that are said to cause allergies and other illnesses. Increasing intolerance to wheat, dairy and nuts means they are being removed from breads, biscuits, milk and other foods on our shelves. Latest figures show that despite the premium price tag for these items, the ‘free from’ food market has grown by 50 per cent in just two years. Data from market research firm Kantar shows the market is worth £360 million, up from £240 million in 2012.
Tesco, which is launching a range of products including a nutless peanut butter to capitalise on the growing appetite, says the boom is being driven in particular by products free of wheat and its protein gluten. The products, which can cost up to eight times as much as standard versions, include breads, cereals and cakes in which wheat-based flour is replaced with gluten-free flour from rice, corn or other sources. Other foods are being sought out by those intolerant to lactose or whose children are allergic to peanuts. But while many are being bought by people with a genuine medical problem, it is feared the bulk of the rise is being fuelled by the ‘worried well’. Portsmouth University researchers found that nine in ten Britons who believe they have a food allergy or intolerance are perfectly healthy. The researchers concluded that although 20 per cent of adults – about 10 million – claim they are unable to eat foods from milk to mustard, fewer than 2 per cent actually have a problem. They blamed internet searches, self-testing kits and celebrity food fads for the epidemic of make-believe allergies and intolerances.