Indeed, foods and beverages specifically made for individuals who have - or believe they have - food allergies remains a fast growing segment. One in three Americans believe that they have a food allergy, even though various government and medical association statistics suggests that the incidence rate is probably closer to one in 25.
In addition, numerous studies attest to the dramatic rise in food allergies in the United States. In fact, the number of children who have food allergies has quadrupled over the last few decades, and the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reports that the number of children allergic to peanuts increased two-fold over a single five-year period from 1997 to 2002.
A growing awareness of the problem among the general public, along with high-profile media coverage, has created an active and growing, if sometimes difficult to understand, market for free-from products. A new report from Research and Markets attempts to analyze the categories that have had the greatest impact on food and drink markets.
"Considering these factors - the rise in the incidence of food allergies, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, customer buying trends, confusion about food allergies, and ongoing media coverage - it is believed that the market for free-from products will enjoy continued growth," said the company in a press release.
"However, growth will not occur in all segments and it will likely come with sharp shifts as new information becomes available. Barring a medical breakthrough, the free-from market also will become an increasingly differentiated food category as labeling and awareness makes these products stand out in consumers' minds."
This is especially pertinent given the general trend towards greater consumer awareness. Though estimates also vary widely for food intolerance, a condition in which the body is unable to produce enough of the natural digestive chemicals to break down a particular type of food, the FDA estimates that approximately 28 per cent of Americans suffer from some form of this condition.
The effects range from mild inconvenience to life threatening, and the two most common culprits are lactose (found in milk-based products) and gluten (found in wheat-based products). More than 170 foods have been identified as allergens, including fruits, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, mollusks, peas, lentils, and beans other than green beans.
The report also examines US consumer attitudes towards food allergies and free-from products, and secondarily on the retail market for foods that are manufactured and targeted specifically at consumers who suffer from food allergies, food intolerance, and who are following avoidance diets. Foods that have been specially manufactured (e.g., pasta) to cater for a gluten-free diet, for instance, are included within this definition.
For more information visit Research and Market's website.