The study combines Preventative Allergen Labeling (PAL) research conducted through Northwestern University, FARE research conducted by McKinsey & Company outlining the market potential, and qualitative research prepared by Global Strategy Group examining consumer habits of diverse populations.
The study found that while 32 million Americans are currently living with a potentially life-threatening food allergies, 85 million Americans are impacted by the disease and avoid purchasing food with the top nine allergens (milk, egg, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and sesame).
"Our research confirms the food allergy community is vast – extending beyond an individual to entire households, and they face unique and costly challenges as they take steps to protect the health and safety of their families," said Lisa Gable, chief executive officer of FARE.
Consumers managing food allergies spend on average 5% more per month on groceries the average consumer, according to the study.
The food allergen consumer
The total number of American food allergy consumers keeps rising, and the number of food allergic children has grown 4% annually since 1997, according to FARE.
The study found that top nine allergen alternative products have grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27% for the past four years, driven primarily by small or allergy-friendly brands.
Nearly two-thirds (64%) of consumers repeatedly purchase the same foods every time they shop to save time and know they are buying safe products.
The study also found that consumers tend to trust smaller, allergy-friendly brands, which presents an opportunity for large manufacturers to engage this community of shoppers about their commitment to food safety.
“By better engaging the food allergic community and by using plain, direct language to describe allergen safety, these large manufacturers have an opportunity to build trust and transparency with the food allergic consumer,” the study stated.
‘A universal label is needed’
Although the FDA currently requires disclosure of the top eight allergens in ingredient lists, and FARE is advocating that sesame be added as a ninth, there is no universal phrase or image to show that a product may unintentionally contain an allergen, noted the study.
“Food allergic consumers want to see improvements in allergen labeling, product information, and availability of allergy-friendly products,” the study stated.
More than half (53%) of food allergy consumers said that current labels are “problematic and interfere with their daily lives” and 71% said they spend on average three to five minutes reading the labels of every single food item they purchase.
“The key takeaway across all three projects was consistent: a universal label is needed,” said FARE, who advocates for precautionary allergen labeling (PAL) – known as ‘may contain’ labeling – on packaged food.
“There is no standardization around PAL in terms of wording and appearance. This is confusing for consumers, so they spend extra, valuable time reading labels or avoid entire food categories. This can make grocery shopping a stressful experience,” said the report.
"Taking time to fully understand the food allergy consumer has shown us that there is a simple and cost-effective solution: if companies create a standardized labeling structure for the top nine allergens, those with food allergies will be able to confidently choose more safe food options for their families," commented Dr. Ruchi Gupta, FARE Medical Advisor for Public Health and Education and Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.