I was fortunate enough to attend the Food and Drink Innovation Network’s recent FreeFrom seminar – my first outing since joining Ceres at the start of September. I didn’t know what to expect from the day as I hadn’t been to an FDIN event before.

A couple of things struck me fairly quickly: first was the impressive delegate list – the event attracted an audience of major brands, exporters, distributors, retailers and industry experts; and second was the willingness of everyone in the room to share experiences and impart knowledge. FDIN pulled together a packed agenda and an impressive array of expert speakers from Kantar Worldpanel to the Gluten Free Industry Association, covering too many topics to adequately describe in this blog.

One thing came across loud and clear from all the presenters: Freefrom is no longer niche – it is mainstream. An £800 million category simply can’t be referred to as niche. Retailers’ Freefrom fixtures are getting ever larger and are now spilling out into the main aisles of the UK’s supermarkets.

Interestingly, nine out of ten Freefrom buyers don’t have a medical intolerance, so for them their decision to pick up a Freefrom product is a lifestyle choice rather than a medical necessity. Their spend, however, only accounts for 50% of category value. It’s these ‘lifestylers’ who hold the key to the continued success and development of the Freefrom category and suppliers and retailers were urged to take this into account when looking at their product development programmes.

While all speakers delivered engaging and fascinating presentations, it was the comments from the Freefrom consumers, a group of four or five millennials that FDIN had invited to be part of the Q&A panel, that really struck a chord with me. We hear a lot about the much vaunted millennials and their importance to the food and drink industry – they represent 20% of the population so you can see why retailers and brands are bending over backwards to appeal to and satisfy them.

The millennials on the panel provided the audience with a number of pearls of wisdom for them to take away:

• More Freefrom food-to-go products on offer 
• Clearer warnings on-pack 
• Cool, credible packaging 
• Make Freefrom products more affordable 
• Better in-store signage/communication for Freefrom products 
• More information through social media 

I left the seminar with the distinct impression that the Freefrom category is facing a future full of exciting possibilities.

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