What can generational theory teach us about the future of Free From?
By Suzanne Robinson, MD, Happen UK
The market for FreeFrom foods is big. Every major supermarket now has a section for products that are free from gluten, wheat, dairy, sugar, nuts, meat or all of the above. In the year to February 2017, the market grew 38.5% to a value of over £800m. At Happen we’ve worked on FreeFrom products with a number of brands for which the trend is big news, such as Arla Lactofree, Barilla Gluten Free and Whole Earth, so we know the market well.
While some consumers have medically diagnosed allergies, the size of the market suggests that many people are self-diagnosing or simply choosing FreeFrom as a shortcut to health. The question facing many brands however is, will FreeFrom continue to grow and if so, who amongst us will drive that growth?
The rapid emergence of the FreeFrom phenomenon is helping to show the difference between the generations. So let’s approach the question in terms of generational theory. Our understanding in this field, which we have applied and developed over the past ten years, has not only helped us to spot trends, but also to understand if they will be significant and therefore what impact this could have on innovation for our clients?
Social anthropologists have identified four generational ‘archetypes’ that repeat in cycles through history: prophets, nomads, heroes and artists. We know these archetypes better as: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z (download our Gen Z e-book here).
Generational research is important for us because each archetype has distinct characteristics that they take with them as they age! So let’s turn detective to see how these characteristics are affecting their different relationships and motivations with food and in turn FreeFrom.
The Baby Boomers, born: 1946-1962
As the ‘Prophet’ generation, they are characterised by being Revolutionary. We see this in the way Baby Boomers are looking to set new rules around how we view age. Food is important socially to Baby Boomers, and they know how it should be done. These are the generation that are used to three proper meals a day, cooked from scratch with real ingredients. There is also a reasonable sized group that is sceptical of Free From foods – one third of them believe the whole thing is a fad, according to Mintel. But as this generation ages, they’re open to trying things that help them to stay active and feel youthful – representing an opportunity for FreeFrom to connect with them.
To open up growth FreeFrom could look to link better with this motivation IE: To help me stay active and enjoying life.
Gen X, born: 1963-1980
Gen X’ers are the ‘nomad’ generation – characterised by being rebels,Gen Xers are the latchkey kids who have learned to be self-reliant, mistrust authority, and to rebel. Not surprisingly, then, they’re a cynical bunch when it comes to Free From: only 12% of Gen X’ers would pay a premium for gluten-free products, according to Mintel. Balancing work with home life, Gen X is the generation that fuelled the rise of on-the-go eating – and as they will need to stay working for longer, they value health and quality too. FreeFrom products that can balance these attributes have a shot at success with Gen X.
To open up growth FreeFrom could look to link better with this motivation IE: Make it easy for me to stay healthy and independent.
Gen Y (Millennials), born: 1981-2000
Gen Y – are the ‘hero’ generation, characterised by their desire for self expression. Gen Y’s (Millennials) show this in their pursuit of personalisation, and in contrast with their Gen X predecessors are naturally optimistic and resourceful. They’ve been told they can have it all, and that’s what they want. They’re attracted to brands that feel different, personal, and that show roots with real meaning and authenticity. Millennials have also rewritten the rules on health as something more holistic and focused on personal fulfillment and happiness. All of which helps to explain why a significant 31% of Millennials say they are very willing to pay a premium for gluten-free products.
To open up growth FreeFrom could look to link better with this motivation IE: Keep me happy and making the most of life.
Gen Z, born: 2002 onward
Gen Z are the ‘artist’ generation – characterised by being sensitive and as Gen Z we see this in the importance placed around protection. Some have called Gen Z the ‘cotton wool kids’ and with 8% of children in the UK now having a food allergy, it’s not surprising that this generation shows the strongest interest in allergen-free foods: 37% say they’re interested in paying more for gluten-free products. As the second generation of digital natives, they’ve grown up conscious of the need to protect themselves online, and this mindset extends offline to foods too. Of course, they’re mostly still too young to be making the food buying decisions, but they’re growing up fast and they are influencing family and out of home decisions.
To open up growth FreeFrom could look to link better with this motivation ie : Help me protect myself and my future.
The strong interest in FreeFrom among younger generations shows that the future for this category is bright. But understanding generational characteristics reveals that there is potential among all age groups for FreeFrom to grow – as long as brands understand what each generation is looking for, and how they can provide it.