New study reveals Canadian attitude towards free-from products

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Inside a No Frills store in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Photo: Raysonho/Wikimedia Commons
Inside a No Frills store in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Photo: Raysonho/Wikimedia Commons

Related tags Generation y Nutrition

There’s a widening sense of distrust from Canadian consumers against food manufacturers, especially when it comes to free-from claims on packaging. A Mintel study conducted in September found that a whopping 65% of Canadians see the free-from label as a way for companies to charge more.

From all the Canadian age groups, millennials—those aged 18 to 34—are the least likely to purchase free-from products compared to other generations (79%). In contrast, US millennials were the most likely generation in their country to do so (83%). But that’s only one tidbit from a new study​ released by Mintel on Canadian trends in free-from foods, which is defined as any packaged food that claims to be free from, among other things, allergens, preservatives, sweeteners or artificial ingredients.

While Canadian Millennials are currently the least likely of all generations to adopt free-from products into their diets, as they age, and move into their ‘family years,’ they will likely show increased interest​,” Joel Gregoire, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, said in a press release.

This was reflected in numbers—parents with children 18 or under in the household were more likely to have positive associations with free-from foods and beverages, the report says. To be exact, 61% of mothers and 67% of fathers agreed to the statement that “free-from products are healthier to eat or drink.”

A potential in North American parents

Their neighbors to the south showed similar sentiments. Back in May, Mintel released US findings on its free-from food trends survey, and found that millennial parents are particularly interested in free-from claims.

A number of millennial parents are heeding the advice of healthcare professionals to eliminate certain ingredients from their diet,” ​the report said. Half of the US millennial mothers surveyed said they wanted to “avoid unnecessary ingredients”, ​compared to 30% of millennial fathers.

According to the report, most respondents prefer a shorter ingredients list—equating it with being more natural, healthy, and clean—compared to products that tout their healthy attributes, such as added protein, fiber, omega-3, and such.

U.S. versus Canadian attitudes

The US study concluded that overall, consumers perceive foods with free-from claims to be “both healthier and less processed,​” and those consumers are likely to turn away from a long ingredients list or ingredients perceived as chemically complex.

Meanwhile, though 80% of Canadian consumers reported that they purchase products with free-from claims, and half admitted they are more likely to buy products with free-from labels, a significant portion (68%) see free-from “as a means for companies to charge more.”

The trust gap between Canadian consumers and food manufacturers doesn’t end there. According to the report, almost half of the Canadian respondents see free-from foods as a short-term fad, “suggesting that free-from products are in danger of representing ‘what’s in vogue’ versus adding real and substantial nutritional benefits.”

Opportunities in storytelling

More than half of Canadian free-from consumers opt for trans fat-free (54%), making this free-from claim the most popular. Following closely is fat-free with 48% of consumers. “The top claims purchased by consumers offer tangible benefits that are related to either heart-health or weight control,” ​the report says.

The hot topic GMO-free claim was lower on the list, with 36% of consumers saying they seek out such products. Even lower on the list were gluten-free buyers at 22%.

Mintel says that a good way to gain trust from consumers and deliver better sales is by presenting compelling arguments to consumers to back the reason for their claims “by embedding it in a story or mission for the products.​”

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