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April 29, 2020

What’s giving the low-FODMAP market in the UK indigestion?

Given estimates of the prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome in the UK, a sizeable low-FODMAP market has been expected to take shape. But, so far, it hasn't. Why? And can it?

By Dean Best

Given estimates of the prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in the UK, a sizeable market for low-FODMAP foods has, for a number of years, been expected to take shape. But, so far, it hasn’t. Why? And can it? Dean Best reports.

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What is the impact of historically high inflation on the UK consumer landscape?

The average UK consumer is experiencing a severe cost-of living crisis as inflation surges to a forty-year high and the price of goods continues to rise. This shock is the result of the sharply increasing costs of commodities, energy, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and is threatening FMCG manufacturers, retailers, and foodservice operators’ ability to survive and grow. Inflation will have a profound effect on many consumer-facing industries in 2022 and beyond. Consult GlobalData’s new whitepaper, Inflation in the UK: The Impact of Historically High Inflation on the UK Consumer Landscape, to better understand shifts in consumer behavior and their impact on spending patterns, as well as the implications for UK businesses. This whitepaper covers:  
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  • What is the current inflation situation in the UK?
  • What impact is inflation having on UK retail sales?
  • What tactics are businesses relying on to tackle the effects of high inflation?
  • How are consumers changing their behaviors to cope with the higher cost of living?
  • Which industry sectors are most vulnerable to reduced consumer demand?
  • How is the government responding to high inflation?
  • How long will high inflation last in the UK?
  • How can your company survive and thrive in a high inflation environment?
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During the middle of the last decade, the UK was touted to be among the clutch of countries where a distinct category for low-FODMAP foods (foods low in fermentable sugars seen as a cause in digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome) could take root.

Fast-forward to the start of this decade and, while brands have carved out a presence online and in-store, there isn’t the kind of category proponents had envisaged, especially when compared not just to Australia but to the US and Canada.

Bay’s Kitchen, with its range of stir-in cooking sauces, has won listings with the UK’s fourth-largest grocer Morrisons and with online pure-play Ocado. The two retailers have also stocked products from Canada-based Fody Food Co. Meanwhile, Tesco, the country’s largest grocer, has merchandised among its condiments and dressings a low-FODMAP mayonnaise marketed under the Lowy brand and manufactured in Spain for Interlimsa. Those in the UK looking for low-FODMAP foods can also buy a range of products online. However, what all this adds up to is far from a fully-fledged category.

“With IBS, we’ve got 13 million sufferers in UK,” Hayley ‘Bay’ Burdett, who set up fledgling UK supplier Bay’s Kitchen in 2018 after she was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and told by doctors to follow a low-FODMAP diet to help manage her symptoms. “It’s got the opportunity to grow into bigger than gluten free has but these things just take time. I believe it will become a category in its own right but it’s definitely going to take some time to get there and get the retailers on-board.”

Industry watchers, pointing to the level of IBS in the UK, say there is latent demand in the country for the foods but put forward reasons why a fully-fledged market has yet to be created.

“Low-FODMAP is an unmet need – but it’s a need a whole bunch of people don’t know they’ve got”

“Would you say FODMAP is an unmet need? I would – but it’s a need a whole bunch of people don’t know they’ve got,” Hamish Renton, managing director at UK food and drink consultancy HRA Global, says.

Why might awareness of the low-FODMAP diet in the UK be lacking? Tim Mottin, director and co-founder at FODMAP Friendly, an Australia-based organisation that certifies low-FODMAP foods worldwide, makes a comparison between the UK and the US.

“The US has really taken hold of it. There’s a lot more push by the dietitians there,” Mottin suggests. “It’s surprising because in the UK’s NICE [National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] health guidelines it specifically states for anyone going to see a medical practitioner that are confronted with IBS-type symptoms the first port of call is to go on a diet low in FODMAPs. You would have thought there would have been more uptake for it.”

There are suggestions knowledge of the low-FODMAP diet among UK healthcare practitioners is patchy. King’s College London describes the diet as “still a relatively new concept in the UK” and says: “Gradually more GPs and gastroenterologists in the UK are referring patients for advice from a registered dietitian who has experience in advising on a low-FODMAP diet.”

Renton is unequivocal. “It’s an absolute lottery like anything with an emerging science effectively,” Renton says. “If you present with an intolerance, and you say ‘I think it could be FODMAPs’ it’s very rare your NHS Trust will have a protocol for putting you through a testing programme.”

There is another factor slowing the development of a low-FODMAP category in the UK, market watchers say – the current availability of products and the types of businesses behind them.

FODMAP Friendly’s Mottin tells just-food there are fewer than 100 products in the UK certified by the organisation. “The hard thing with those 64 products is the public being aware of those 64 products,” he reflects, saying what market there is in the UK has “a lot of small, boutique players”.

He adds: “The whole thing is [about] getting market penetration. You’ve still got one in seven people with IBS that probably could do with a product but how do you get the product to them? It’s convincing supermarkets to say they’ll take a chance – but shelf space is highly sought after. It’s hard for these little players because they don’t have been the funding to put together a marketing campaign to move the product as well. A lot of them are online and trying to create their own market by their own social media presence.”

Renton says a lack of major players in the UK (unlike in other countries, where, for example, Nestle has products in the US, and Fazer Group in its home market of Finland) is, alongside the variable level of knowledge in the medical community, one of the two “precursors” to a category developing.

“Some of the big players have got to get on the bus, acknowledge the science and effectively suck up the extra costs of getting products FODMAP-tested,” he argues. “What you’re seeing now is the real adventure brands but it’s sort of an echo chamber because they’re only talking to a few people. It’s a bit like free-from 20 years ago. No one wants to know, [they say] ‘It’s complicated, it’s awkward, I don’t really understand it, it’s costly.'”

Renton is unsure about the long-term future but he ultimately believes a market could take root. “Crikey, it’s such a difficult one to call but I do genuinely think it will get bigger as a concern, I really do.”   There are small brands that have carved out a presence in the UK that are optimistic about the potential for low-FODMAP foods in the country. One, Bay’s Kitchen, has recently attracted a “substantial six-figure investment” from Steven Joseph, the former chairman of UK snacks supplier Tangerine Confectionery (now part of Ireland’s Valeo Foods Group).

“Until Steven came on board, I hadn’t really spent any money on marketing at all. We didn’t have the budget,” Burdett explains, adding the investment will help NPD. We’re expanding into different categories, making soups, making gravies.”

Burdett doesn’t share the same level of concern about the level of knowledge among the UK’s healthcare practitioners, saying awareness has improved. “As far as I’m aware, it’s the first thing they say to anyone that gets diagnosed with IBS because it’s something that can be self-managed and removes needing so much medication,” Burdett says. “I think it is getting through from GPs and medical professionals now.”

Burdett insists there is a potential market in the UK for low-FODMAP foods but acknowledges awareness needs to be built among consumers. “When we told our [social-media] followers we were launching into Morrisons, people got so excited by the fact a retailer was going to stock products suitable for them. Once you get the retailers on board, there is consumer market ready and waiting. They just can’t find [products] anywhere,” she tells just-food. 

“But then also it’s a bigger consumer challenge of the wider market and explaining what the FODMAP is. We need to educate consumers on this diet. It’s such a major need for so many people. Among most of the free-from buyers there’s a level already there that they know about. The main conversation is around ‘how big do you think the market will be?'”

Canada’s Fody Food Co., another that has listings at Morrisons, is selective about the retailers with which it works. “Morrisons was one we targeted because we heard from people on the ground they’re very proactive in terms of the healthy trend,” COO Sean Surkis tells just-food. 

“We’re not in the business of begging the retailers. We want to go into retailers that believe in what we’re doing. We want retailers that know that FODMAPs are important, that know that one in seven people that are shopping in their stores are underserved today. Those retailers that are patient and work with us on marketing plans and education. When someone says ‘So the low-FODMAP fad; how long do you think it’s gonna last?’ We’d rather wait, quite frankly, until we meet the buyer or the retailer that has read up on it and believes what we’re doing is helping the consumer.”

“We really want to be what we are in the US: the reference of low-FODMAP foods in the UK”

The UK is one of five markets in which Fody and its namesake brand is present but Surkis lists the country – alongside Canada and the US – as one of three markets where the company is focusing its resources. “We’re not in a phase in the company’s life where margin is a top priority. We’re trying to build a brand. We really want to be what we are in the US: the reference of low-FODMAP foods in the UK.”

Surkis describes the UK as “getting going” but he has advice for brands and retailers operating in – or interested in entering – the market. “Part of it is about brands like Fody simplifying the message to get people in and part of it is retailers like Morrisons, for example, taking more leadership,” he suggests. “Every retailer that we’ve spoken to – in the UK, in North America – says exactly the same thing: ‘We know this is going to be something interesting and big. The question is: do we do it now or do we wait six months?'”

How, though, has Covid-19 affected the fledgling market for low-FODMAP foods in the UK? With retailers in March facing shocks to the supply chain as UK consumers loaded pantries and asking suppliers to focus on core products, what impact did that have on the emerging low-FODMAP brands?

“We have been very lucky … selling ambient, long-life cupboard staples, so sales have been good for us. We have had a big uplift on our own website and Amazon sales, as well as an increase in volume from Ocado,” Burdett says. “The majority of our business is online and through online retailers, so, on the whole it’s not been a problem.

That’s not to say the period has been without its challenges. “The issue we were facing was with a major supermarket we supply,” Burdett explains. “Whilst we were able to get stock to their depot and sent in a large order in March, the stock wasn’t getting from their depot to store, which was understandable as they were prioritising other lines.

“This went on for about two weeks, so we saw sales drop as more stores went out of stock of our products. Luckily, at the beginning of April the supermarkets began to return more to ‘normal’ in terms of stock levels and our stock got back into stores. Sales have got back to normal. All major stockists have put a hold on launching any new lines until further notice, and some of our promotions got put on hold, too.”

At Fody, sales through retail stores have been “globally healthy” and its direct-to-consumer business has “increased substantially”, Surkis says. “Sales in retail stores are globally healthy with a higher percentage of sales on kitchen staples such as pasta sauces. We see similar trends across all markets including the UK.”

Surkis acknowledges retailers’ moves to prioritise certain products as retailers adapted to volatile demand affected orders. “In our case, our pasta sauces have seen a huge up-tick in orders from retailers. Bars have been a little slower as they are seen as an ‘on-the-go’ type product. At the moment, retailers are putting priority on the ‘stay-at-home’ kitchen staples.”

Looking ahead, could, in fact Covid-19 give something of a boost to the low-FODMAP market in the UK?

“We are very optimistic the crisis may have a silver lining of getting people to focus on gut health. We are hearing feedback from our community that staying at home is helping with the discipline needed to start a low-FODMAP diet. It’s much easier to start when at home and not ‘on the road’ and forced to eat out,” Surkis reflects.

At Bay’s Kitchen, Burdett sees rising demand but argues there may be a short-term brake put on growth.

“Stress and anxiety are big triggers for IBS, so I can imagine an increase in cases of IBS following Covid-19 and therefore an increase in demand for low-FODMAP products,” she says. “Due to major retailers putting a hold on new product launches and any meetings we had being put back, it will now take longer for us to grow the low-FODMAP market in the UK. However, I still see it growing.”

Related Companies

Free Whitepaper
img

What is the impact of historically high inflation on the UK consumer landscape?

The average UK consumer is experiencing a severe cost-of living crisis as inflation surges to a forty-year high and the price of goods continues to rise. This shock is the result of the sharply increasing costs of commodities, energy, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and is threatening FMCG manufacturers, retailers, and foodservice operators’ ability to survive and grow. Inflation will have a profound effect on many consumer-facing industries in 2022 and beyond. Consult GlobalData’s new whitepaper, Inflation in the UK: The Impact of Historically High Inflation on the UK Consumer Landscape, to better understand shifts in consumer behavior and their impact on spending patterns, as well as the implications for UK businesses. This whitepaper covers:  
  • Why has global inflation returned with a vengeance?
  • What is the current inflation situation in the UK?
  • What impact is inflation having on UK retail sales?
  • What tactics are businesses relying on to tackle the effects of high inflation?
  • How are consumers changing their behaviors to cope with the higher cost of living?
  • Which industry sectors are most vulnerable to reduced consumer demand?
  • How is the government responding to high inflation?
  • How long will high inflation last in the UK?
  • How can your company survive and thrive in a high inflation environment?
Enter your details here to receive your free whitepaper and ready your business for these increasingly uncertain times.
by GD50 Custom
Enter your details here to receive your free Whitepaper.

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