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Enjoy Life Foods exec: Free-From food products present a larger opportunity than gluten-free

 

Joel Warady

This post is sponsored by Enjoy Life Foods.

As consumers’ tastes and biological responses to food evolve, food retailers and manufacturing companies will be forced to evolve alongside them — and ahead of them — predicting needs and taste preferences. Enjoy Life Foods, maker of cookies, snack bars, baking mixes, seed and fruit mixes and chocolate Free-From ingredients such as dairy, eggs, gluten and more, knows that. It has charted six years of consecutive double-digit growth under the leadership of Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer, who said he sees the Free-From food category as an ever-growing opportunity for food manufacturers and retailers to give consumers the foods they want and trust.

Here, Warady answers some questions about the Free-From food category and outlines some strategies retailers can use to take advantage of the category’s projected growth.

Can you define the Free-From market?

The Free-From market is perhaps one of the most underserved markets within the conventional food retail channel. Simply put, industry experts define the Free-From category as food that does not include the eight most common food allergens of wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish, and shellfish as well as being gluten free.

For perspective on the importance and potential of this market, many retailers now are trying to meet the needs of the gluten-free market of 25 million shoppers — gluten-free is a subset of the Free-From market, but only accounts for 25% of the entire Free-From market, which serves 100 million consumers, according to New Hope 360’s Gluten-Free Forecast. These consumers are desperate for the same variety and taste in food products that most of us take for granted but at the same time, it is so much more than that. This category is about meeting a 100-million strong need for safety and trust in ingredients and manufacturing as every three minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER, and every six minutes the reaction results in anaphylaxis, according to the organization Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Free-From products can help prevent this occurrence.

How quickly is the Free-From category growing?

From a global dollar perspective, the category is currently a $3.9 billion market, according to Packaged Facts, and is projected to grow significantly to $12 billion by 2020, according to Datamonitor. However, these figures are very likely low and don’t represent the real growth potential of the market. I say this as the Free-From shopper’s desire for a wide variety of products is currently not being met and they can’t buy what is not being sold. Imagine what the number would be if they had more products and more variety in their grocery store of choice. Couple that with the fact that while one in 13 children today are diagnosed with a food allergy, many experts believe that that number will increase to one in 10 children over the course of the next few years, according to FARE.

What are some of the characteristics of shoppers in this category?

Free-From shoppers are within the top 15% of shoppers in terms of spending. The Free-From shopper’s average basket size value is $102, compared to $46 for the average shopper, which was recorded by Kantar Retail Shopper Genetics for the year ending in May 2012. Free-From consumers also spend more time in stores and make more frequent visits than most shoppers.

They do this because they have to as they tend to read each and every label to make sure a food item is safe to eat. As well, their shopping trips will only go to retailers that meet their needs for Free-From products. But an even more important characteristic of this shopper is that retailers will not find a more passionate, grateful and vocal ambassador for their store. At Enjoy Life Foods, we know this for a fact. We engage with our consumers every day, and their passion is palatable. Their stories and expressions of gratitude move us to tears. They share our story on our behalf each and every day, expressing profound loyalty to our products in a way that is just not commonplace, especially with younger shoppers who tend to be less loyal in the grocery channel. At the same time, they share with one another which retailer is best serving their community.

What strategies can retailers use to take advantage of this growth?

Typically, the Free-From shopper has learned to avoid the center of the store and focuses on shopping the perimeter and “organic” section. These areas of the store though can be frustrating and/or frightening to them as many of these shoppers have allergies to dairy and produce.

Creating, or expanding, a dedicated Free-From section is step one. Getting the word out to shoppers though is a critical step two, as they will not know there is a place in the store that is dedicated to their needs. Showing them you care to stock and effectively merchandise products that can meet the safety and taste needs of everyone in their household will create that loyal shopper, and a shopper that will increase their basket size with you; a true win-win.

Where do you see the Free-From market heading in the next five years?

We expect the Free-From category to only accelerate in recognition and growth in the next five years. The underlying macro trends of children being diagnosed with allergies will continue. This will lead to more and more households demanding Free-From products across more and more categories.

This means food retail landscape will need to continue to evolve to keep pace with an explosion of dietary demands and needs from shoppers. The winners, in so many senses of the word, will be the retailers that are forward-thinking and committed to meeting their shoppers’ profound need for safety and desire for variety and great taste in their food products.

Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer of Enjoy Life Foods, has guided the allergy- friendly CPG company through six consecutive years of double-digit growth. Within the last 18 months, he has been ranked as one of the Top 50 CMOs on Twitter by Social Media Marketing Magazine, one of the Top 50 Most Influential CMOs on Social Media by Forbes.com and most recently, was included in Brand Quarterly magazine’s list of 50 Marketing Thought Leaders Over 50. Since the February acquisition by Mondelez International, Warady has worked diligently to unite the Enjoy Life nimble entrepreneurial culture with the power — and complexity — that a $34 billion company brings to the mix.

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