According to the British Society for Allergy & Clinical Immunology (BSACI), between 3% and 6% of children are affected by food allergies in developed countries.
In the UK, an estimated 2 million people have been diagnosed with a food allergy while 600,000 are living with coeliac disease. As a result, the amount of households who need to buy "free from" and alternative products continues to increase.
Data recorded by the NHS revealed that, between 2014 and 2021, the number of 11 to 18-year-olds needing hospital treatment due to severe allergic reactions rose by 85.5%.
In addition, during the same period, hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions over all age groups grew by 28.8%.
In light of the above, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) reported that in December 2022, families with food allergies, intolerance, and coeliac disease spent an extra 14p on average on groceries in comparison to people who did not buy "free from" and alternative products.
Carla Jones, CEO of the charity Allergy UK, reported that supermarkets do not offer price ranges of "free from" items, which makes families on restricted diets more vulnerable to price increases (as seen on the image below).
Furthermore, Carla Jones explained that the labelling information further limits the options for these families. She commented:
"'May contain' statements don't show a true reflection of the ingredients included and are more helpful to the manufacturer than to the allergic consumer.
The sheer scale of the problem merits a meaningful revision of food labelling to open up food choices beyond the 'free from' fixtures for many families."
The high prices of "free from" products is put down to the strict assessment of the ingredients, processes and environment. Moreover, "free from" manufacturers trade in smaller markets, so they have less chances to benefit from economies of scale.
Even though plant-based milks does not always get a "free from" certification, their production also involves high costs. Consequently, these elevate costs are passed on to consumers.
Supermarkets such as Morrisons and Sainsbury's said they are working on their 2023 range of "free from" and alternative items to offer customers variety, good value and great quality products.