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Allergen labelling confusion

28 January 2019

Allergen food labels are a source of confusion for today’s Brits, according to latest research from Mintel. Only 37% of consumers agree that it is easy to identify which allergens a product is free from by its label. 

While pre-packaged goods are legally required to highlight on-pack the presence of any allergens, almost half (48%) of Brits are unsure whether or not allergen labels are clear, and a further 15% actively disagree that this is the case.

Meanwhile, a UK-wide allergen labelling system on free-from product packaging appeals to 29% of those who have bought/used free-from products, a figure which rises to 39% of those users who avoid foods/ingredients because of an allergy or intolerance.

Commenting on the research findings Emma Clifford, associate director of Food and Drink at Mintel, said: “Potential changes to allergen labelling has received a lot of high profile media coverage recently. Given the perceived lack of clarity and the dangerous health implications that ambiguous allergen labelling can have on consumers, there is a real need for companies to make the presence of allergens very obvious on labelling.

“While current regulations require allergens to be listed in bold on the ingredients list, many companies choose to highlight certain free-from credentials on the front of packaging as well. At the moment this is not regulated and as such, there is no uniformity between the labelling used, which can fuel confusion among consumers, particularly given the huge amount of other product information on packaging. There is strong demand for a UK-wide labelling system for allergens which would unify the way in which companies communicate this information on packaging.”

According to Mintel, just under half of consumers say that they, or someone in their household, avoid at least one food/ingredient, with 16-24-year-olds (61%) the most likely age group to report household avoidance of foods/ingredients. Overall, there has been no significant change in the share of UK consumers that avoid certain foods or ingredients over the past year.

Perhaps surprisingly, only 20% of consumers (or other members of their household) avoid certain ingredients due to an allergy or intolerance, which is on a par with those who do so as part of a healthy lifestyle (22%). Of those who have eaten/drunk free-from foods, 28% do not avoid any foods/ingredients.

Meanwhile, three in ten (30%) Brits avoid certain foods/ingredients for other reasons (eg ethical, vegetarian) rising to 38% of under-25s and 41% of females in this age group.

While dairy is the most commonly avoided food/ingredient (17%), avoidance of dairy has remained unchanged over the last three years. Soya (16%), fish or shellfish (16%), red meat (15%) and lactose (15%) make up the top five foods/ingredients which Brits avoid.

“Allergies or intolerances aren’t the main reason that consumers are avoiding certain foods or ingredients. Healthy lifestyles and ethical and environmental concerns are also boosting the appeal of these products, with young consumers in particular most likely to be driven by these factors.”

Gluten-free products remain the most popular free-from food with 27% of consumers having purchased or eaten these over six months, despite only 12% of consumers reporting that they or somebody else in their household avoid gluten. 

Meanwhile, a quarter of consumers have purchased dairy substitutes, while 19% have bought dairy-free foods.

A quarter of consumers say free-from diets are good for digestive health, but 44% say that it is hard to know whether they have health benefits for those without an allergy or intolerance. A further 40% worry that following a free-from diet puts you at risk of missing out on certain nutrients.

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