How do consumers feel about allergen information on labels?

As the UK government looks to introduce stricter legislation, a Mintel survey reveals the free-from food most popular with Brits and what they are currently avoiding.

25 January 2019
image credit: Getty Images

Proposals to overhaul allergen-labelling laws have been unveiled by the environment secretary, Michael Gove.

The proposed reforms cover labelling requirements for foods that are packed on the same premises at which they are sold, such as a packaged sandwich or salad made by staff and placed on a shelf for purchase. Currently, these foods are not required to carry labels, and information on allergens can be given in person by the food business if asked by the consumer.

Four options have been put forward to improve allergy information. These include mandating full ingredient list labelling; allergen-only labelling on food packaging; ‘ask the staff’ labels on all products, with supporting information for consumers available in writing; or promoting best practice around communicating allergen information to consumers.

The consultation will be open until March 29. While these issues are being debated, however, Mintel and Spoon Guru have separately released timely statistics on allergens and free-from foods.


Mintel allergy survey

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Almost half of the 2,000 Brits surveyed say that they, or someone in their household, avoid at least one food/ingredient – although only 20% do so due to an allergy or intolerance.
  • The 16-24 age group are the most likely (61%) to report household avoidance of foods/ingredients.
  • Three in ten Brits avoid certain foods/ingredients for other reasons (e.g., 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%) complete the top five.
  • Gluten-free products remain the nation’s most popular type of free-from food with 27% of consumers having purchased or eaten these over the last six months, despite only 12% of consumers reporting that they or somebody else in their household avoid gluten.
  • quarter of consumers have purchased dairy substitutes, while 19% have bought dairy-free foods.
  • 26% 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.
  • Of those who have eaten/drunk free-from products, 28% do not avoid any foods/ingredients.
  • The UK free-from market was valued at £837m in 2018, growing 133% since 2013.


“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,” said Emma Clifford, associate director of food and drink at Mintel.

She adds that the idea that following a free-from diet could potentially put people at risk of missing out on certain nutrients is alsoof concern for a significant number of consumers.

“Gluten-free products carrying nutrient fortification claims are not widespread in the UK market, suggesting a missed opportunity. While highlighting the absence of allergens is vital, spotlighting nutritional credentials is also important for free-from products, particularly to appeal to those opting for these products as part of a healthy lifestyle,” she explained.


Spoon Guru study

  • 55% of UK consumers have unintentionally consumed food restricted from their diet, with the number-one reason being that over two-thirdshave been served the wrong food as an error by the waiting staff in bars and restaurants.
  • Meanwhile, 42% listed poor food labelling as the second most common reason for purchasing incorrect products.
  • 70% of shoppers with severe allergies or intolerances indicated that they struggle to identify the right food for their dietary needs.
  • Of the 1,332 adults who were surveyed, 99%believe retailers have a responsibility to be transparent about food ingredients, regardless of current legislation.
  • 94% of those surveyed support new regulations concerning better food labelling.
  • 83% of UK consumers believe technology will play a key role in improving food ingredient transparency.
  • Brits over 60, who have some form of exclusion diet, struggle the most (23%) when shopping for foods online or at supermarkets.

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