When food can be fatal: exploring new trends in the allergen-free food sector

When food can be fatal: exploring new trends in the allergen-free food sector

By
Louise Burfitt
November 10, 2020

If you’ve ever tried ordering a meal with a food allergy, you’ll know that things can get pretty complicated pretty quickly. Same goes for shopping for groceries, picking up a snack on the go, or simply stopping by a friend’s house for dinner.

Yet this is the difficult and tiring reality for millions of people around the world: globally, allergies are on the rise, with half a billion worldwide suffering from a food allergy of some kind. In Europe the most common food allergies are to milk, eggs, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and sesame. Allergic reactions can range from mild to devastatingly fatal.

The rise in allergies means that the global market for food allergy and intolerance products has also seen major growth. The global food allergy and intolerance products market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.1% by 2025. It will be worth $32 billion by 2027.

Trend drivers: a large consumer base, increased awareness and a demand for tasty free-from foods

Across Europe 2% of people have a food allergy of some kind, while globally the figure is close to 0.5 billion. However, the segment of consumers who avoid allergens while food shopping is even bigger than just those allergic themselves, encompassing parents shopping for children with allergies, those with food intolerances or others who avoid an allergen for a non-medical reason (ethical or religious, for example). This means the market is one with plenty of potential – in the US, some 85 million shoppers make purchasing decisions based around avoiding food allergens, though only 29 million have a food allergy.

High-profile recent deaths from food allergies have also brought into sharp focus the need for stricter regulation and improved labelling. For those with the most severe allergies, life-threatening reactions can be triggered by just a trace of the food in question and companies who are forced to recall products face legal damages and reputational harm. As a result - and rightly so - manufacturers and retailers are taking allergies more seriously than in the past. The introduction of an EU law in 2014 that required companies to identify 14 allergens in prepackaged foods is also leading to increased awareness.

As allergies rise, demand for tasty, appealing free-from foods is also increasing. While safety is the primary concern for allergic customers and their families, for obvious reasons, consumers also want allergy-suitable foods that can compete with their ‘normal’ counterparts on taste, nutrition and price. Until the explosion in the ‘free-from’ market in the last decade, the variety of allergen-friendly foods was limited, often restricted to a single shelf in the supermarket and eating out was fraught with risk or even avoided entirely. Thankfully the times are changing, so let’s take a look at exactly how...

Exploring the trend: allergen-free snacks, clear labelling and technology

Allergen-free food products are a growing market, particularly in the snacking sector where those with allergies have often felt excluded due to the prevalence of nuts. Blake’s Seed Based makes nut-free snack bars that are free of the top eight food allergens by partnering with allergy-friendly manufacturing facilities. The company was founded by an allergy sufferer, who was frustrated by the lack of tasty snacks available to those with nut allergies. Wildway and Nadanut are doing similar in the snacking sector, while Hilary’s is focusing on a wider range of products including allergen-free burgers and salad dressings.

The big players are also getting in on the trend: Mondelez acquired Enjoy Life, a maker of snacks free from 14 common allergens, in 2015, while Nestlé has launched chocolate snacks suitable for those with dairy and gluten allergies, containing just three ingredients. Simplified ingredients lists are a real boon both for those with allergies and the brands manufacturing them: Costa Rican company Natural Sins makes allergen-free veggie crisps, made with just two ingredients (vegetables and raw cane sugar) so they’re free from the top eight allergens and easy to label.

There is an overlap between foods designed for health-conscious or vegan consumers, that fit the allergy-friendly bill almost by accident. Ripple is a vegan milk made from peas, which happens to be completely allergen-free. As dairy-free and gluten-free have been major growth sectors in the past decade, the amount of choice for those with allergies to these food groups - rather than those avoiding them for health or ethical reasons - has grown. Oatly, for example, is suitable for people with any of the top eight allergies though it is primarily popular with vegans.

Innovative technologies are also aiding the fight for safer foods. Handheld allergy detectors aim to use tech to help consumers identify allergens in their food safely and quickly. Nima makes handheld allergy detectors for gluten and peanuts, while SensoGenic have developed a sensor capable of detecting milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy and shellfish when a food sample is placed on the unit.

Apps are also playing a role: applications like TIOLI and ShopWell allow users to scan product barcodes while shopping to verify a product is suitable before purchasing, saving them time and money in the process. Allergy sufferers can also use apps like Spokin and AllergyEats to discover allergy-friendly restaurants in their area and share trusted recommendations with other users. Such apps offer a potential area for collaboration between their developers and allergen-free food businesses.

Case studies: Kubeba and allerguard

US startup KUBEBA are riding the allergen-free snacks train with their newly launched range of protein bars. Like many allergen-focused companies, the company has a personal backstory – one of its founders has a severe nut allergy and found finding safe, nutritious protein bars almost impossible. KUBEBA bars are not just free of the top eight allergens, they also are low in sugar and high in protein. And they are designed to taste delicious, too, with the three initial flavours Salted Fudge, Blueberry Ginger and Cinnamon Fig. The company’s aim is to provide a delicious and nutritious snack, without the nagging anxiety that often accompanies eating for those with allergies.

Israeli startup allerguard is leading the pack in the allergy detection technology sector. In 2019 it raised $1.5 million in seed funding to develop its handheld allergy detection device. The appliance stands out from its competitors by analysing the vapours released by a plate of food, rather than scanning a physical food sample. Though the device is still in testing, the plan is for it to be able to scan a plate of food in under 60 seconds, reducing consumer anxiety and offering more options in terms of eating out safely for those with severe allergies.

Worth noting: committing to safety and winning over customers

Safety is, of course, the most important priority for those working in the allergen-free sector, whether on products, in manufacturing or tech - a company’s commitment to safety can quite literally be a matter of life and death for its customers. Businesses that get it wrong are likely to face severe reputational damage as well as legal ramifications. Many companies pioneering new products have personal experiences of allergies, however, so know how paramount safety - and peace of mind - are to consumers shopping for allergen-free foods. Making this central to their messaging can help to reassure would-be customers in the same way that clear labelling and product origin information do.

And while safety is of central importance, research suggests that allergen-avoidant customers want more than that alone. While their food choices may be determined by medical factors outside of their control, shoppers with allergies still want tasty and nutritious options – and choice. This demand should push product innovators and retailers to think outside the box, finding new ways to make allergen-free products that work on all fronts. While developing allergy-friendly foods can be a long process, given the paperwork and testing involved, once consumers find a brand they can trust, they are likely to reward said company with a lifetime of loyalty.

The 30-second pitch: allergen-free food

🥜 What

  • With food allergies on the rise in western societies, the market for allergen-free food products and detection devices is experiencing significant growth.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Allergen-avoidant consumers need to be assured of the safety of what they’re eating, above all else, but increasingly, they’re looking for products that also excel in the areas of taste, price and variety.


📱How

  • Allergen-free snacks and food products
  • Allergen detection devices
  • Food scanning and allergy-friendly restaurant apps


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • The growth in allergen-friendly foods, particularly in the snacking sector, means greater choice and enhanced safety for consumers.
  • Allergy detection devices, like allerguard, could help to give allergic customers eating out in restaurants greater peace of mind, and could be an added tool for foodservice outlets to deploy to verify the safety of allergen-free meals.


👎 The bad

  • Safety is of utmost importance and companies that do not treat this crucial issue with the necessary gravity will soon face the consequences.
  • Certifying a product as allergen-free depends on a country’s individual legal regulations, but it understandably requires paperwork and intense testing in most states. This can require a great deal of time and investment.


💡 The bottom line

  • While developing an allergen-free food item or detection device can be a long and expensive process, those who lean on clear messaging and labelling and put safety as well as taste at the heart of their brand are likely to reap the rewards of a loyal customer base.


Written by
Louise Burfitt

Louise is an editor and writer based in Oxfordshire. When her nose isn’t buried in a dictionary, you’re most likely to find her taking long weekend walks or nurturing herbs and vegetables in her container garden.

Become a FoodHack+ member to get unlimited access

  • Access premium publications
  • Get listed on our directory
  • Join a Global Community

If you’ve ever tried ordering a meal with a food allergy, you’ll know that things can get pretty complicated pretty quickly. Same goes for shopping for groceries, picking up a snack on the go, or simply stopping by a friend’s house for dinner.

Yet this is the difficult and tiring reality for millions of people around the world: globally, allergies are on the rise, with half a billion worldwide suffering from a food allergy of some kind. In Europe the most common food allergies are to milk, eggs, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and sesame. Allergic reactions can range from mild to devastatingly fatal.

The rise in allergies means that the global market for food allergy and intolerance products has also seen major growth. The global food allergy and intolerance products market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.1% by 2025. It will be worth $32 billion by 2027.

Trend drivers: a large consumer base, increased awareness and a demand for tasty free-from foods

Across Europe 2% of people have a food allergy of some kind, while globally the figure is close to 0.5 billion. However, the segment of consumers who avoid allergens while food shopping is even bigger than just those allergic themselves, encompassing parents shopping for children with allergies, those with food intolerances or others who avoid an allergen for a non-medical reason (ethical or religious, for example). This means the market is one with plenty of potential – in the US, some 85 million shoppers make purchasing decisions based around avoiding food allergens, though only 29 million have a food allergy.

High-profile recent deaths from food allergies have also brought into sharp focus the need for stricter regulation and improved labelling. For those with the most severe allergies, life-threatening reactions can be triggered by just a trace of the food in question and companies who are forced to recall products face legal damages and reputational harm. As a result - and rightly so - manufacturers and retailers are taking allergies more seriously than in the past. The introduction of an EU law in 2014 that required companies to identify 14 allergens in prepackaged foods is also leading to increased awareness.

As allergies rise, demand for tasty, appealing free-from foods is also increasing. While safety is the primary concern for allergic customers and their families, for obvious reasons, consumers also want allergy-suitable foods that can compete with their ‘normal’ counterparts on taste, nutrition and price. Until the explosion in the ‘free-from’ market in the last decade, the variety of allergen-friendly foods was limited, often restricted to a single shelf in the supermarket and eating out was fraught with risk or even avoided entirely. Thankfully the times are changing, so let’s take a look at exactly how...

Exploring the trend: allergen-free snacks, clear labelling and technology

Allergen-free food products are a growing market, particularly in the snacking sector where those with allergies have often felt excluded due to the prevalence of nuts. Blake’s Seed Based makes nut-free snack bars that are free of the top eight food allergens by partnering with allergy-friendly manufacturing facilities. The company was founded by an allergy sufferer, who was frustrated by the lack of tasty snacks available to those with nut allergies. Wildway and Nadanut are doing similar in the snacking sector, while Hilary’s is focusing on a wider range of products including allergen-free burgers and salad dressings.

The big players are also getting in on the trend: Mondelez acquired Enjoy Life, a maker of snacks free from 14 common allergens, in 2015, while Nestlé has launched chocolate snacks suitable for those with dairy and gluten allergies, containing just three ingredients. Simplified ingredients lists are a real boon both for those with allergies and the brands manufacturing them: Costa Rican company Natural Sins makes allergen-free veggie crisps, made with just two ingredients (vegetables and raw cane sugar) so they’re free from the top eight allergens and easy to label.

There is an overlap between foods designed for health-conscious or vegan consumers, that fit the allergy-friendly bill almost by accident. Ripple is a vegan milk made from peas, which happens to be completely allergen-free. As dairy-free and gluten-free have been major growth sectors in the past decade, the amount of choice for those with allergies to these food groups - rather than those avoiding them for health or ethical reasons - has grown. Oatly, for example, is suitable for people with any of the top eight allergies though it is primarily popular with vegans.

Innovative technologies are also aiding the fight for safer foods. Handheld allergy detectors aim to use tech to help consumers identify allergens in their food safely and quickly. Nima makes handheld allergy detectors for gluten and peanuts, while SensoGenic have developed a sensor capable of detecting milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy and shellfish when a food sample is placed on the unit.

Apps are also playing a role: applications like TIOLI and ShopWell allow users to scan product barcodes while shopping to verify a product is suitable before purchasing, saving them time and money in the process. Allergy sufferers can also use apps like Spokin and AllergyEats to discover allergy-friendly restaurants in their area and share trusted recommendations with other users. Such apps offer a potential area for collaboration between their developers and allergen-free food businesses.

Case studies: Kubeba and allerguard

US startup KUBEBA are riding the allergen-free snacks train with their newly launched range of protein bars. Like many allergen-focused companies, the company has a personal backstory – one of its founders has a severe nut allergy and found finding safe, nutritious protein bars almost impossible. KUBEBA bars are not just free of the top eight allergens, they also are low in sugar and high in protein. And they are designed to taste delicious, too, with the three initial flavours Salted Fudge, Blueberry Ginger and Cinnamon Fig. The company’s aim is to provide a delicious and nutritious snack, without the nagging anxiety that often accompanies eating for those with allergies.

Israeli startup allerguard is leading the pack in the allergy detection technology sector. In 2019 it raised $1.5 million in seed funding to develop its handheld allergy detection device. The appliance stands out from its competitors by analysing the vapours released by a plate of food, rather than scanning a physical food sample. Though the device is still in testing, the plan is for it to be able to scan a plate of food in under 60 seconds, reducing consumer anxiety and offering more options in terms of eating out safely for those with severe allergies.

Worth noting: committing to safety and winning over customers

Safety is, of course, the most important priority for those working in the allergen-free sector, whether on products, in manufacturing or tech - a company’s commitment to safety can quite literally be a matter of life and death for its customers. Businesses that get it wrong are likely to face severe reputational damage as well as legal ramifications. Many companies pioneering new products have personal experiences of allergies, however, so know how paramount safety - and peace of mind - are to consumers shopping for allergen-free foods. Making this central to their messaging can help to reassure would-be customers in the same way that clear labelling and product origin information do.

And while safety is of central importance, research suggests that allergen-avoidant customers want more than that alone. While their food choices may be determined by medical factors outside of their control, shoppers with allergies still want tasty and nutritious options – and choice. This demand should push product innovators and retailers to think outside the box, finding new ways to make allergen-free products that work on all fronts. While developing allergy-friendly foods can be a long process, given the paperwork and testing involved, once consumers find a brand they can trust, they are likely to reward said company with a lifetime of loyalty.

The 30-second pitch: allergen-free food

🥜 What

  • With food allergies on the rise in western societies, the market for allergen-free food products and detection devices is experiencing significant growth.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Allergen-avoidant consumers need to be assured of the safety of what they’re eating, above all else, but increasingly, they’re looking for products that also excel in the areas of taste, price and variety.


📱How

  • Allergen-free snacks and food products
  • Allergen detection devices
  • Food scanning and allergy-friendly restaurant apps


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • The growth in allergen-friendly foods, particularly in the snacking sector, means greater choice and enhanced safety for consumers.
  • Allergy detection devices, like allerguard, could help to give allergic customers eating out in restaurants greater peace of mind, and could be an added tool for foodservice outlets to deploy to verify the safety of allergen-free meals.


👎 The bad

  • Safety is of utmost importance and companies that do not treat this crucial issue with the necessary gravity will soon face the consequences.
  • Certifying a product as allergen-free depends on a country’s individual legal regulations, but it understandably requires paperwork and intense testing in most states. This can require a great deal of time and investment.


💡 The bottom line

  • While developing an allergen-free food item or detection device can be a long and expensive process, those who lean on clear messaging and labelling and put safety as well as taste at the heart of their brand are likely to reap the rewards of a loyal customer base.


Become a FoodHack+ member to get unlimited access

  • Access premium publications
  • Get listed on our directory
  • Join a Global Community
UPGRADE NOW
Cancel anytime

If you’ve ever tried ordering a meal with a food allergy, you’ll know that things can get pretty complicated pretty quickly. Same goes for shopping for groceries, picking up a snack on the go, or simply stopping by a friend’s house for dinner.

Yet this is the difficult and tiring reality for millions of people around the world: globally, allergies are on the rise, with half a billion worldwide suffering from a food allergy of some kind. In Europe the most common food allergies are to milk, eggs, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and sesame. Allergic reactions can range from mild to devastatingly fatal.

The rise in allergies means that the global market for food allergy and intolerance products has also seen major growth. The global food allergy and intolerance products market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.1% by 2025. It will be worth $32 billion by 2027.

Trend drivers: a large consumer base, increased awareness and a demand for tasty free-from foods

Across Europe 2% of people have a food allergy of some kind, while globally the figure is close to 0.5 billion. However, the segment of consumers who avoid allergens while food shopping is even bigger than just those allergic themselves, encompassing parents shopping for children with allergies, those with food intolerances or others who avoid an allergen for a non-medical reason (ethical or religious, for example). This means the market is one with plenty of potential – in the US, some 85 million shoppers make purchasing decisions based around avoiding food allergens, though only 29 million have a food allergy.

High-profile recent deaths from food allergies have also brought into sharp focus the need for stricter regulation and improved labelling. For those with the most severe allergies, life-threatening reactions can be triggered by just a trace of the food in question and companies who are forced to recall products face legal damages and reputational harm. As a result - and rightly so - manufacturers and retailers are taking allergies more seriously than in the past. The introduction of an EU law in 2014 that required companies to identify 14 allergens in prepackaged foods is also leading to increased awareness.

As allergies rise, demand for tasty, appealing free-from foods is also increasing. While safety is the primary concern for allergic customers and their families, for obvious reasons, consumers also want allergy-suitable foods that can compete with their ‘normal’ counterparts on taste, nutrition and price. Until the explosion in the ‘free-from’ market in the last decade, the variety of allergen-friendly foods was limited, often restricted to a single shelf in the supermarket and eating out was fraught with risk or even avoided entirely. Thankfully the times are changing, so let’s take a look at exactly how...

Exploring the trend: allergen-free snacks, clear labelling and technology

Allergen-free food products are a growing market, particularly in the snacking sector where those with allergies have often felt excluded due to the prevalence of nuts. Blake’s Seed Based makes nut-free snack bars that are free of the top eight food allergens by partnering with allergy-friendly manufacturing facilities. The company was founded by an allergy sufferer, who was frustrated by the lack of tasty snacks available to those with nut allergies. Wildway and Nadanut are doing similar in the snacking sector, while Hilary’s is focusing on a wider range of products including allergen-free burgers and salad dressings.

The big players are also getting in on the trend: Mondelez acquired Enjoy Life, a maker of snacks free from 14 common allergens, in 2015, while Nestlé has launched chocolate snacks suitable for those with dairy and gluten allergies, containing just three ingredients. Simplified ingredients lists are a real boon both for those with allergies and the brands manufacturing them: Costa Rican company Natural Sins makes allergen-free veggie crisps, made with just two ingredients (vegetables and raw cane sugar) so they’re free from the top eight allergens and easy to label.

There is an overlap between foods designed for health-conscious or vegan consumers, that fit the allergy-friendly bill almost by accident. Ripple is a vegan milk made from peas, which happens to be completely allergen-free. As dairy-free and gluten-free have been major growth sectors in the past decade, the amount of choice for those with allergies to these food groups - rather than those avoiding them for health or ethical reasons - has grown. Oatly, for example, is suitable for people with any of the top eight allergies though it is primarily popular with vegans.

Innovative technologies are also aiding the fight for safer foods. Handheld allergy detectors aim to use tech to help consumers identify allergens in their food safely and quickly. Nima makes handheld allergy detectors for gluten and peanuts, while SensoGenic have developed a sensor capable of detecting milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy and shellfish when a food sample is placed on the unit.

Apps are also playing a role: applications like TIOLI and ShopWell allow users to scan product barcodes while shopping to verify a product is suitable before purchasing, saving them time and money in the process. Allergy sufferers can also use apps like Spokin and AllergyEats to discover allergy-friendly restaurants in their area and share trusted recommendations with other users. Such apps offer a potential area for collaboration between their developers and allergen-free food businesses.

Case studies: Kubeba and allerguard

US startup KUBEBA are riding the allergen-free snacks train with their newly launched range of protein bars. Like many allergen-focused companies, the company has a personal backstory – one of its founders has a severe nut allergy and found finding safe, nutritious protein bars almost impossible. KUBEBA bars are not just free of the top eight allergens, they also are low in sugar and high in protein. And they are designed to taste delicious, too, with the three initial flavours Salted Fudge, Blueberry Ginger and Cinnamon Fig. The company’s aim is to provide a delicious and nutritious snack, without the nagging anxiety that often accompanies eating for those with allergies.

Israeli startup allerguard is leading the pack in the allergy detection technology sector. In 2019 it raised $1.5 million in seed funding to develop its handheld allergy detection device. The appliance stands out from its competitors by analysing the vapours released by a plate of food, rather than scanning a physical food sample. Though the device is still in testing, the plan is for it to be able to scan a plate of food in under 60 seconds, reducing consumer anxiety and offering more options in terms of eating out safely for those with severe allergies.

Worth noting: committing to safety and winning over customers

Safety is, of course, the most important priority for those working in the allergen-free sector, whether on products, in manufacturing or tech - a company’s commitment to safety can quite literally be a matter of life and death for its customers. Businesses that get it wrong are likely to face severe reputational damage as well as legal ramifications. Many companies pioneering new products have personal experiences of allergies, however, so know how paramount safety - and peace of mind - are to consumers shopping for allergen-free foods. Making this central to their messaging can help to reassure would-be customers in the same way that clear labelling and product origin information do.

And while safety is of central importance, research suggests that allergen-avoidant customers want more than that alone. While their food choices may be determined by medical factors outside of their control, shoppers with allergies still want tasty and nutritious options – and choice. This demand should push product innovators and retailers to think outside the box, finding new ways to make allergen-free products that work on all fronts. While developing allergy-friendly foods can be a long process, given the paperwork and testing involved, once consumers find a brand they can trust, they are likely to reward said company with a lifetime of loyalty.

The 30-second pitch: allergen-free food

🥜 What

  • With food allergies on the rise in western societies, the market for allergen-free food products and detection devices is experiencing significant growth.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Allergen-avoidant consumers need to be assured of the safety of what they’re eating, above all else, but increasingly, they’re looking for products that also excel in the areas of taste, price and variety.


📱How

  • Allergen-free snacks and food products
  • Allergen detection devices
  • Food scanning and allergy-friendly restaurant apps


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • The growth in allergen-friendly foods, particularly in the snacking sector, means greater choice and enhanced safety for consumers.
  • Allergy detection devices, like allerguard, could help to give allergic customers eating out in restaurants greater peace of mind, and could be an added tool for foodservice outlets to deploy to verify the safety of allergen-free meals.


👎 The bad

  • Safety is of utmost importance and companies that do not treat this crucial issue with the necessary gravity will soon face the consequences.
  • Certifying a product as allergen-free depends on a country’s individual legal regulations, but it understandably requires paperwork and intense testing in most states. This can require a great deal of time and investment.


💡 The bottom line

  • While developing an allergen-free food item or detection device can be a long and expensive process, those who lean on clear messaging and labelling and put safety as well as taste at the heart of their brand are likely to reap the rewards of a loyal customer base.


If you’ve ever tried ordering a meal with a food allergy, you’ll know that things can get pretty complicated pretty quickly. Same goes for shopping for groceries, picking up a snack on the go, or simply stopping by a friend’s house for dinner.

Yet this is the difficult and tiring reality for millions of people around the world: globally, allergies are on the rise, with half a billion worldwide suffering from a food allergy of some kind. In Europe the most common food allergies are to milk, eggs, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and sesame. Allergic reactions can range from mild to devastatingly fatal.

The rise in allergies means that the global market for food allergy and intolerance products has also seen major growth. The global food allergy and intolerance products market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.1% by 2025. It will be worth $32 billion by 2027.

Trend drivers: a large consumer base, increased awareness and a demand for tasty free-from foods

Across Europe 2% of people have a food allergy of some kind, while globally the figure is close to 0.5 billion. However, the segment of consumers who avoid allergens while food shopping is even bigger than just those allergic themselves, encompassing parents shopping for children with allergies, those with food intolerances or others who avoid an allergen for a non-medical reason (ethical or religious, for example). This means the market is one with plenty of potential – in the US, some 85 million shoppers make purchasing decisions based around avoiding food allergens, though only 29 million have a food allergy.

High-profile recent deaths from food allergies have also brought into sharp focus the need for stricter regulation and improved labelling. For those with the most severe allergies, life-threatening reactions can be triggered by just a trace of the food in question and companies who are forced to recall products face legal damages and reputational harm. As a result - and rightly so - manufacturers and retailers are taking allergies more seriously than in the past. The introduction of an EU law in 2014 that required companies to identify 14 allergens in prepackaged foods is also leading to increased awareness.

As allergies rise, demand for tasty, appealing free-from foods is also increasing. While safety is the primary concern for allergic customers and their families, for obvious reasons, consumers also want allergy-suitable foods that can compete with their ‘normal’ counterparts on taste, nutrition and price. Until the explosion in the ‘free-from’ market in the last decade, the variety of allergen-friendly foods was limited, often restricted to a single shelf in the supermarket and eating out was fraught with risk or even avoided entirely. Thankfully the times are changing, so let’s take a look at exactly how...

Exploring the trend: allergen-free snacks, clear labelling and technology

Allergen-free food products are a growing market, particularly in the snacking sector where those with allergies have often felt excluded due to the prevalence of nuts. Blake’s Seed Based makes nut-free snack bars that are free of the top eight food allergens by partnering with allergy-friendly manufacturing facilities. The company was founded by an allergy sufferer, who was frustrated by the lack of tasty snacks available to those with nut allergies. Wildway and Nadanut are doing similar in the snacking sector, while Hilary’s is focusing on a wider range of products including allergen-free burgers and salad dressings.

The big players are also getting in on the trend: Mondelez acquired Enjoy Life, a maker of snacks free from 14 common allergens, in 2015, while Nestlé has launched chocolate snacks suitable for those with dairy and gluten allergies, containing just three ingredients. Simplified ingredients lists are a real boon both for those with allergies and the brands manufacturing them: Costa Rican company Natural Sins makes allergen-free veggie crisps, made with just two ingredients (vegetables and raw cane sugar) so they’re free from the top eight allergens and easy to label.

There is an overlap between foods designed for health-conscious or vegan consumers, that fit the allergy-friendly bill almost by accident. Ripple is a vegan milk made from peas, which happens to be completely allergen-free. As dairy-free and gluten-free have been major growth sectors in the past decade, the amount of choice for those with allergies to these food groups - rather than those avoiding them for health or ethical reasons - has grown. Oatly, for example, is suitable for people with any of the top eight allergies though it is primarily popular with vegans.

Innovative technologies are also aiding the fight for safer foods. Handheld allergy detectors aim to use tech to help consumers identify allergens in their food safely and quickly. Nima makes handheld allergy detectors for gluten and peanuts, while SensoGenic have developed a sensor capable of detecting milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy and shellfish when a food sample is placed on the unit.

Apps are also playing a role: applications like TIOLI and ShopWell allow users to scan product barcodes while shopping to verify a product is suitable before purchasing, saving them time and money in the process. Allergy sufferers can also use apps like Spokin and AllergyEats to discover allergy-friendly restaurants in their area and share trusted recommendations with other users. Such apps offer a potential area for collaboration between their developers and allergen-free food businesses.

Case studies: Kubeba and allerguard

US startup KUBEBA are riding the allergen-free snacks train with their newly launched range of protein bars. Like many allergen-focused companies, the company has a personal backstory – one of its founders has a severe nut allergy and found finding safe, nutritious protein bars almost impossible. KUBEBA bars are not just free of the top eight allergens, they also are low in sugar and high in protein. And they are designed to taste delicious, too, with the three initial flavours Salted Fudge, Blueberry Ginger and Cinnamon Fig. The company’s aim is to provide a delicious and nutritious snack, without the nagging anxiety that often accompanies eating for those with allergies.

Israeli startup allerguard is leading the pack in the allergy detection technology sector. In 2019 it raised $1.5 million in seed funding to develop its handheld allergy detection device. The appliance stands out from its competitors by analysing the vapours released by a plate of food, rather than scanning a physical food sample. Though the device is still in testing, the plan is for it to be able to scan a plate of food in under 60 seconds, reducing consumer anxiety and offering more options in terms of eating out safely for those with severe allergies.

Worth noting: committing to safety and winning over customers

Safety is, of course, the most important priority for those working in the allergen-free sector, whether on products, in manufacturing or tech - a company’s commitment to safety can quite literally be a matter of life and death for its customers. Businesses that get it wrong are likely to face severe reputational damage as well as legal ramifications. Many companies pioneering new products have personal experiences of allergies, however, so know how paramount safety - and peace of mind - are to consumers shopping for allergen-free foods. Making this central to their messaging can help to reassure would-be customers in the same way that clear labelling and product origin information do.

And while safety is of central importance, research suggests that allergen-avoidant customers want more than that alone. While their food choices may be determined by medical factors outside of their control, shoppers with allergies still want tasty and nutritious options – and choice. This demand should push product innovators and retailers to think outside the box, finding new ways to make allergen-free products that work on all fronts. While developing allergy-friendly foods can be a long process, given the paperwork and testing involved, once consumers find a brand they can trust, they are likely to reward said company with a lifetime of loyalty.

The 30-second pitch: allergen-free food

🥜 What

  • With food allergies on the rise in western societies, the market for allergen-free food products and detection devices is experiencing significant growth.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Allergen-avoidant consumers need to be assured of the safety of what they’re eating, above all else, but increasingly, they’re looking for products that also excel in the areas of taste, price and variety.


📱How

  • Allergen-free snacks and food products
  • Allergen detection devices
  • Food scanning and allergy-friendly restaurant apps


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • The growth in allergen-friendly foods, particularly in the snacking sector, means greater choice and enhanced safety for consumers.
  • Allergy detection devices, like allerguard, could help to give allergic customers eating out in restaurants greater peace of mind, and could be an added tool for foodservice outlets to deploy to verify the safety of allergen-free meals.


👎 The bad

  • Safety is of utmost importance and companies that do not treat this crucial issue with the necessary gravity will soon face the consequences.
  • Certifying a product as allergen-free depends on a country’s individual legal regulations, but it understandably requires paperwork and intense testing in most states. This can require a great deal of time and investment.


💡 The bottom line

  • While developing an allergen-free food item or detection device can be a long and expensive process, those who lean on clear messaging and labelling and put safety as well as taste at the heart of their brand are likely to reap the rewards of a loyal customer base.