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Why are people eating less gluten and dairy?

Why are more people avoiding gluten and dairy?

by Ollie Lloyd 27 March 2019

Our regular research into Britain's 13 million foodies paints a picture of the UK's culinary landscape, showing not just what's changing but why. Ollie Lloyd picks apart the data on gluten- and dairy-avoiders and how plant-based eating broke into the mainstream.

Great British Chefs regularly commissions consumer surveys to gain a deeper understanding of the 13 million foodies on the UK. The fact that we have received over two million answers to our questions in the last three years gives us a very nuanced understanding of the changes that are happening around us. For example, our 2018 research uncovered, before others were talking about it, a growing plant-based revolution with an increasing number of Brits trying to reduce their consumption of animal products.

The trend of moving away from meat in favour of plant-based eating prompted us to ask what other types of food/ingredients people are looking to avoid in their diets. In our January research we asked about people’s attempts to avoid dairy, gluten/wheat and sugar. The results revealed a world of change with almost a third of Brits (29%) trying to reduce the amount of products that contain gluten and wheat in their diets, with a similar number (27%) trying to reduce the amount of dairy products.

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While some may write off this trend as people being 'fussy' and mostly limited to young people, it's actually more complex. In order to understand this trend further, we provided a list of statements (13 for dairy and eight for gluten/wheat) with potential reasons for avoidance and asked users to identify which they agreed with. The most prominent drivers behind the trend are more closely associated with ‘lifestyle choices’ rather than medical necessity.

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However, in order to truly understand these results we need to dig deeper, segment these ‘avoiders’ and try to identify clusters that have distinct motivations. This segmentation led us to create four clear groups of dairy-avoiders, each of which could be addressed differently. The largest group, the ‘hard dairy-avoiders’ as we called them, is made up of people who avoid dairy products for medical or religious reasons. While some in this group have medically diagnosed conditions, the majority are self-diagnosed and agree with statements like ‘I have come to the conclusion that dairy doesn’t agree with me’. It seems likely that this group will grow over time as more and more people are exposed to the stories about how friends removed dairy from the diet and ‘felt better’. One of the other more niche dairy-avoiding groups is the ’environmental dairy-avoiders’ – people primarily concerned with animal welfare and the environmental impact of dairy production. This group is significantly smaller and does raise questions as to why so many ‘filks’ (or fake milks, as the dairy industry calls them) seem to target this group.

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Much like dairy avoidance, people avoiding gluten and wheat have a broad range of reasons for avoidance and segmentation of the group helps create addressable audiences. Medical gluten-avoiders made up the largest group and, like dairy-avoiders, a large percentage were self-diagnosed. Things get really interesting when you start to look at the dairy consumption habits of the gluten-avoiders and you discover that 63% of gluten-avoiders also avoid dairy. This means there is a group of people that can be defined by what they are trying to avoid and there are clearly opportunities for brands to work more collaboratively across categories.

The reality is that over 25% of those in the UK aged 18–74 (10 million people) are seeking to reduce or avoid the consumption of dairy and gluten. Brands that are looking to exploit this opportunity need to weave stories that are relevant to consumers and can be delivered by the brand’s products. The first step on a journey to engage this valuable audience is to understand them and (as is often the case) the key is actionable insight. For full results of our research and to gain insight into Britain’s 13 million foodies, please get in touch.

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