The impact of Coronavirus on free from product categories

Zoe Jordan, Ashbury’s Business Development Director looks at the impact of Coronavirus on the free from category and how interest in meat-free products, vegan smoothies and hemp milk continues to emerge.

An early focus on familiar brands and staple products.

In the last few months, the free from category has been adversely affected by the flattening of consumer spending during ‘lock-down’. Financial insecurity has seen lifestyle free-from consumers, who previously would give free from products a go, experimenting less and taking comfort in familiar staple brands.

However, any adverse effects on the free from category seen at the beginning of lock-down are now fading and interest in free from is emerging again. From a regulatory and compliance perspective, Ashbury has seen a steady increase in projects related to the free from category throughout lock down with several ongoing projects in the pipeline. In the last couple of weeks, we have been working on regulatory compliance for plant-based meats, vegan smoothies, vegan smoothie powders and hemp milk – all new products being brought to market.

Free from will only grow from here.

Being at home has given consumers time – time to cook from scratch and time to reflect on where their food and ingredients are sourced and this is being reflected in the number of free from products currently being worked on ready for launch. ‘Conscious consumerism’ will be big news going forward; we will see renewed interest in both free from and plant-based ingredients as well as finished products with organic, functional, and sustainable credentials. Consumer concern about animal welfare, combined with the new worry about hygiene will, longer term, see renewed growth in the category with start-ups, kick starting interest among consumers.

A more competitive market has forced price reductions and driven an improvement in achievable sensory properties; free from food products taste better and are more accessible than ever before, whilst ‘eco’ hygiene and cleaning products perform better than earlier iterations. Healthy eating, sustainability and gut health – all trends that have been magnified by the pandemic, will see the number of ‘by choice’ free from consumers continue to rise and the demand for such products along with it.

Consumers no longer just need these products they want them.

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