Free-from foods and beverages may be popular among Canadian consumers, but new research from Mintel reveals that trust barriers and confusion exist over free-from products. While four in five (80 percent) Canadians buy foods with free-from claims, 65 percent agree that free-from claims are a way for companies to charge more. What’s more, the same number of consumers agree that many free-from foods are a short-term fad (46 percent) as agree that they are more likely to buy products with free-from labels (49 percent). While two thirds (68 percent) of Canadians report that they are well informed on what ingredients are not good for them, the broadness of the free-from category can cause confusion for consumers who perceive certain claims as implying that foods containing these additives and ingredients are detrimental to their health, such as GMO-free, which 36 percent of consumers purchase.

The top claims on food products purchased by Canadians are trans-fat free (54 percent), fat-free (48 percent) and preservative-free (46 percent). These health-linked claims align with consumer attitudes, as 59 percent of free-from consumers agree that free-from products are healthier to eat or drink. Another 52 percent agree that these products help them address specific health issues, with one third (31 percent) of Canadians agreeing that certain ingredients will cause disease later in life.

While 80% of Canadians purchase free-from products, just 22% agree free-from claims are an important purchasing factor

However, among the 80 percent of Canadians who purchase free-from foods and beverages, only 22 percent report that free-from claims are an important factor when it come to purchases for the home. In fact, aside from price, ingredients (75 percent) and freshness (73 percent) are the most important factors for consumers.

“Mintel research suggests that while Canadians are adding free-from foods and beverages to their diets, consumers overwhelmingly choose ingredients and freshness as their top consideration when purchasing for the home,” said Joel Gregoire, Senior Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel. “Consumers are willing to buy free-from products even though they may perceive free-from claims as a marketing ploy, so to effectively position free-from foods and gain the trust of consumers, manufacturers should invest in communicating the benefits that free-from products offer beyond placing labels on packaging, particularly around claims that offer tangible health benefits, to bridge the trust gap.”

Compared to US Millennials (age 18-34), who are the most likely generation to purchase free-from products (83 percent), Canadian Millennials are the least likely generation to do so (79 percent), with Baby Boomers (age 55+) leading purchases at 83 percent. However, Canadian Gen Xers (age 35-44) are more likely (57 percent) than Millennials (49 percent) and Boomers (43 percent) to agree that fewer ingredients in a product means it’s healthier. Overall, Gen Xers are the most likely generation to agree that free-from products are healthier to eat or drink (63 percent).

“While Canadian Millennials are currently the least likely of all generations to adopt free-from products into their diets, as they age, and move into their ‘family years,’ they will likely show increased interest. Additionally, their perceptions of these foods and beverages will likely start to more closely align with those of Gen Xers in many cases,” continued Gregoire.

66% of Canadian parents feel better serving free-from foods and beverages to their children

Mintel research shows that Canadian parents with children under age 18 at home hold much stronger views in support of free-from foods and beverages than non-parents, as 38 percent of parents agree that they are worried how certain ingredients will impact their children’s future health. What’s more, three in 10 (30 percent) parents want their children to eat less of certain ingredients, such as nuts and other potential allergens. Likewise, two thirds (66 percent) of parents feel better serving free-from products to their children, while another half (50 percent) agree it’s worth paying more for free-from products (vs 36 percent of non-parents).

Overall, 58 percent of parents report that they are more likely to buy products with free-from labels compared to 45 percent of non-parents, and 64 percent agree that free-from products are healthier to consume (vs 57 percent of non-parents). Free-from claims with the largest difference in usage between parents and non-parents are pesticide-free (53 percent of parents vs 40 percent of non-parents), free-from antibiotics (51 percent vs 36 percent) and nitrate-free (40 percent vs 24 percent).

“Parents are strongly motivated by concerns for their children’s current and future health, and our research highlights that, across nearly all free-from claims, parents are more likely than non-parents to claim to have purchased free-from products by a significant margin. While food products that are free of allergens or possess tangible health benefits have already been communicated to parents, manufacturers can position certain products, such as hormone- and antibiotic-free, as not just being an immediate health benefit, but an investment toward the future health of their children in order to grow their outreach to parents and attract long-term consumers,” concluded Gregoire.

Press copies of the Free-from Food Trends Canada 2015 report and interviews with Joel Gregoire, Senior Food and Drink Analyst, are available on request from the press office.

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