Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the Healthy & Natural Show in Chicago last week, chief sales & marketing officer Joel Warady said: “We still believe that today in 2016 it makes sense to have a dedicated set for free-from products and we recommend our retailers to have a gluten-free or allergy-friendly subset within the natural aisle.
“That being said, some of our retailers are integrating products throughout the store, but if that is the case we highly recommend having shelf tags and callouts that really educate the consumer.”
How fast is the gluten-free market really growing?
While some stakeholders had queried Warady’s claim – made in a recent webinar hosted by New Hope Network – that the US gluten-free market is still growing at 25% year-on-year, Warady stood by the figures.
“When we look at the categories in which we compete – we’re in six categories – in each of those categories we are still seeing double digit-growth. We see that the market has been growing between 20 and 25% annually.
“Most of it is coming from the conventional side as opposed to the natural channel. We are continuing to see large increases in both conventional and mass as well as club.
"One of the things you have to keep in mind is when you’re using syndicated data, there are a lot of things that are not being measured, for example what’s happening in online specialty stores."
Our online business is experiencing double-digit growth
He added: "Our online business is experiencing double-digit growth, yet still represents an overall small portion of our current business. That said, we continue to see huge growth opportunities in this channel. In addition to a well-established business relationship with Amazon, we have seen huge growth at Kroger-owned Vitacost.com, Thrive, Walmart.com, Jet.com, and other growing e-tailers.
"This opportunity is one that is very important to the company and has resulted in us having a full-time channel manager developing this business in both the US and Canada."
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How has being part of Mondelez International impacted Enjoy Life Foods?
Asked how being part of snacks and confectionery giant Mondelez International (Enjoy Life Foods was acquired by the multinational in early 2015) has impacted the brand, Warady said that while Mondelez did not manage Enjoy Life's distribution, it had provided the financial resources to triple its sales team, which had resulted in a "large increase in distribution and penetration."
He added: “They have really helped us gain efficiencies from a manufacturing standpoint and they are certainly giving us the funds we need to promote our products.
“One of our goals is to reach ubiquity; we want to make sure that our products are everywhere where our consumers want them to be, and so having those dollars to put behind marketing and promotion is really helpful.”
Grab & Go
As for the biggest growth opportunities for the Enjoy Life Foods brand, he said: “We are very focused on snacking, and I think grab-and-go is a huge opportunity for us, and it also gets you into foodservice and c-stores and channels where we don’t currently have such a big presence.”
What does free-from mean?
Some people defined the 'free-from' category as meaning foods free from the ‘big 8’ allergens requiring labeling by the FDA, while others associated the term more loosely with ‘clean-label,' said Warady.
“The definition has become a bit diluted. We look at it in its pure sense as being certified gluten-free, as well as being free from the top eight allergens [wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish and shellfish]. We are also are free from Canada’s 12 priority food allergens, which include the top eight plus sulfites, crustaceans, sesame and mustard. Plus we’re free of celery and lupin [which are on the EU official list].”
We don’t use the term ‘allergen-free’
But Enjoy Life Foods does not use the term ‘allergen-free’ he said: “The reality is, someone is always allergic to something… so you can’t be allergen-free.”
While there is no legal definition of this term, Enjoy Life Foods instead uses the phrase, ‘allergy-friendly’ as it does not use the top allergens identified by regulators, he said: “The top eight allergens represent 90% of all food allergies in the US today.”