Vegan croissants, gluten-free pasta or meat-free steaks: even in the homes of traditional gastronomy like France and Italy, consumers are starting to adopt ‘free’ foods, for health or ecological reasons. Gluten-free, meat-free or allergy-free food is one of the main trends presented at the International Food Fair (Salon International de l’alimentation, Sial) near Paris, which grouped together 105 countries.
“Consumers have changed”, sums up Elizabeth Leitner, head of export at Probios, an Italian company which specializes in organic products, and launched vegan croissants. “More and more people are choosing an alternative way of living”, and talk about it on social media, affirms Ms Leitner, who also underlines the growing preoccupation concerning allergies and the impact of meat consumption on health and the environment.
In France, 4% of the population follows a gluten-free diet – a protein that can be found in wheat, rye and barley – as well as 8% in Italy, 7% in Germany and 6% in Spain, according to Mintel, a market research company based in London.
Gluten-free foods are vital for people suffering from celiac disease, an auto-immune disease which can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, sickness, and bloating if gluten is ingested. But numerous consumers buy products simple because they consider them healthier. A trend popularized by the tennis champion Novak Djokovic.
Anti-gluten fever has already hit the United States, where its critics see it only as a way to get consumers to spend more money. “Gluten is for this decade what carbohydrates were in the 00s and fat in the 80s and 90s: the black sheep, evil, the cause of everything that is wrong with you, and eliminating it from you diet will cure you”, wrote the affluent magazine Time in a recent article.
True or False, this trend has taken over Europe, where gluten-free products are on the up, according to Mintel.
Among the food and drink products launched in Italy in 2013, 10% claims to be gluten-free, an increase of 66% compared to the previous year. In France, products like it went up by 28% in the same period. There has been such enthusiasm that companies that launched ‘free’ products a few years ago with no success have reintroduced them to the European market.
Among the other products on offer are meat-free alternatives for popular products, such as soya hamburgers and steaks. Consumers are starting to worry about the negative impact of meat consumption on the environment, especially about greenhouse emission from animals. Even in France, where vegans often struggle to find something they can eat on restaurant menus, meat sales went down by 7% between 1998 and 2012, according to Nutrikeo consultants.