Rise of flexi-diets supporting buoyant free-from market, Rich’s reports


New research from Rich’s, the UK’s leading supplier of premium bakery products, has shown that 17% of UK consumers are looking for dairy-free alternatives, with people increasingly flexing between different eating habits and diets.

The total UK grocery meat-free and plant-based occasions are now worth £3.4bn , with more and more people entering the category to meet their lifestyle needs. It is just as booming in the OOH sector, where visits for vegan products reached half a billion in 2019, totalling £3.9bn spend. Gluten free options also proved popular, with 0.4 billion visits and £3.1 billion spend.

Although total commitment to a certain diet is on the rise, a major consumer trend is flexing between them, whether that’s from weekday to weekend, or when at home or out with friends. And it’s easier than ever to pick and choose, with a significantly wider range available for vegetarians or vegans, as well as increased awareness in the media.

The research showed that different regimes vary depending on shopper demographics with vegan diets followed by more males (58%) than female, as well as being prevalent with those aged 25-34 and living in London. More females (60%) are vegetarian, with East Midlands the location with the highest number of meat-free eaters, whilst those avoiding gluten are likely to be aged between 35-44.

The top reason stated by UK consumers for moving to dairy and gluten-free, after having an intolerance, was for health purposes. For vegan diets, 49% chose ‘helping the planet’ as the most important factor, whilst the top driver for becoming a vegetarian was out of compassion for animals, followed by sustainability. Around 13% of vegan respondents said they had been inspired by a documentary, such as The Game Changers on Netflix, with only 6% stating they wanted to be part of a trend.

Rich’s marketing director John Want said: “The free-from market is buoyant and it’s no surprise as the number of vegans has quadrupled since 2014; there’s now 600,000 people following the diet in the UK. People are more willing to try different regimens than ever before, and the rise of free-from products has contributed to this growth. While supermarkets have done well to deliver a range of options, with dairy and pizza alternatives performing well, there is still a big opportunity for the OOH channel to offer more. Free-from sweet bakery is worth £54.4m but does not have an in-store presence yet, which is another potential growth area.

“Taste is still king though and while trial of dairy and meat replacements is high, repeat purchases rely on the products ‘being like the original’ in terms of flavour and functionality. Our research showed that free-from brands also need to offer more clarity with on-pack labelling, especially with confusion from consumers around free-from/plant-based definitions. We have a lot of exciting free-from innovations in the pipeline, both in the grocery and out of home channel, which will meet gaps in the market and further boost the category.”