How “Free-From" Labels Have Shaped Consumer Expectations

How “Free-From" Labels Have Shaped Consumer Expectations

How "free-from" labels have shaped consumer expectations, how you can keep up, and what trends are coming down the pike.

Of course, you’ve seen the "free-from" label on just about every pantry staple on the grocery shelves; gluten-free, peanut-free, soy-free, dairy-free, and more. Even some restaurant menus are extolling the virtues of "free from" to their guests. But did you know that "free from" claims are shaping consumer perceptions of product healthiness? Nielsen data shows that free-from products are experiencing much higher growth than the rest of the food and beverage sector. According to Euromonitor data, the U.S. has the most prominent global growth market in “free from” food labels.

Allergens aside, 43% of consumers said they believe that "free-from" foods are healthier in general, while about 84% of consumers said they think these "free-from" products are more natural or less processed. While products free of ingredients may not actually be any healthier than their label-heavy counterparts, with numbers like these, it’s no wonder economic projections suggest this "free-from" food label category will continue to be one of the fastest-growing over the next few years—continuing the strong growth of 15%, or $1.4 billion, between 2017 and 2022.

Shoppers and diners are clearly scrutinizing labels to check that products do not contain certain ingredients. Still, now we’re even seeing a rise in more scientific labeling to signal health benefits: GMOs, antibiotics, pesticides, and other undesired additives, are all on the list of undesirables for health and wellness-savvy consumers. Nielsen data shows products labeled as antibiotic-free had 20% growth last year, and hormone and antibiotic-free came in second with 15% growth.

So, how can you capitalize on this label and product transparency craze? Pairing "free-from" with ethical additive labeling may be enough to tip the scales in your favor. Consumers want products free of gluten, sure, but combining this with a label touting an absence of antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones, can be a great way to catch the eye of shoppers or restaurant guests. Going a step further and showcasing humane, organic, vegetarian fed and other relevant claims is a great way to provide the assurance of a natural product or a meal that is sustainable and humanely-sourced—a win-win. If you’re an operator, adding these healthy label-laden brands to your menu will bring more diners to your table.

If you’re looking for the next trend to jump on, here’s your crystal ball into the future of labels: reduced calorie, low calorie, and low sodium. That’s right; it’s like a blast back to the 90s with the return of the low-calorie label reigning supreme. Heart health and calorie counting are getting ready to make their appearance on food labels once more, and we think that with a nearly 500% rise in popularity in the last two years, this will be the next big thing to hit food packaging in early 2023.