The dramatic growth in the market for “free from” products, including those that are gluten or dairy free, which is now bigger than the UK market for tea, according to new research, provides further evidence that our increasingly health conscious eating habits are putting the shopper in a position of increasing power and influence in the retail and FMCG market.

That’s the verdict from category management and shopper marketing specialist Bridgethorne after research from Nielsen UK reported that sales of “free-from” products rose by £122.9m or 18 per cent in 2016 year on year. UK shoppers also spent an additional £175.6 million on fresh fruit in 2016 whilst nearly £50m more was spent on avocados last year, making it the single fastest-growing food or drink item in the UK. The research shows that the ‘free from’ market is now a bigger category than instant coffee and around 40 per cent bigger than tea.

“Changing tastes and demands continue to put the shopper in the box seat in the retail and FMCG market,” explains Bridgethorne director John Nevens.

“The constant promotion of the benefit of embracing a healthier diet is clearly feeding through to the shopper. This places the onus on suppliers not only to meet this demand but also to understand it.”

Our changing eating habits, adds Nevens, including our increasing enthusiasm for healthier options, shows how shoppers are demanding more choice and independence.  This has resulted in a power shift away from the major brands and suppliers, who used to hold all the aces, through the major retail multiples and now to the shopper. Suppliers need to understand that and use it to inform their business models, from marketing and activation to new product development. 

“Consumers and shoppers are not one and the same. The shopper will likely be influenced by their consumers but they are the ones who will ultimately make the purchasing decision whether in-store or online. Understanding what drives the shopper, the missions they take when they buy and the factors that influence their purchasing decisions of gluten-free or dairy-free items or any other product is vital.”

Effective research is essential in assisting clients in securing the insights they need into shopper behaviour and to provide a deep understanding of their particular target categories. Bridgethorne’s shopper research team helps clients learn about their shoppers and their shopping journeys; using this insight to increase the chances of converting intent into purchase at the point of sale.