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Canadian ‘free-from’ food consumers skeptical, confused by claims, says Mintel


Toronto – Foods and beverages labelled as “free-from” various ingredients are popular among Canadian consumers but must overcome trust barriers and confusion, new research from Mintel suggests.

While 80 pe rcent of Canadians buy foods with free-from claims, 65 per cent agree that free-from claims are a way for companies to charge more money, the research company said in a news release. What’s more, the same number of consumers agree that many free-from foods are a short-term fad (46 per cent) as agree that they are more likely to buy products with free-from labels (49 per cent).

Interestingly, while 80 per cent of Canadians purchase free-from products, just 22 per cent agree free-from claims are an important purchasing factor.

While two-thirds 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.

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The top claims on food products purchased by Canadians are trans-fat free, fat-free and preservative-free.

“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, in the release. “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.”

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 of parents feel better serving free-from products to their children, while another half agree it’s worth paying more for free-from products (versus 36 per cent of non-parents).

“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,” Gregoire said.