Market research organisation Mintel says that 36 million Americans or one in six adults (16%), claim to suffer from either a food allergy or intolerance. 

Half of these sufferers felt their symptoms were serious enough to
consult a doctor.  Women (at 20%) are considerably more likely than men (just 13%) to suffer from allergies or to be food intolerant.

Mintel’s research also finds that one in three (33%) Americans have looked for information about food allergies and intolerance in the last six months alone.

The most popular source of information was food labels with one in four (24%) adults using these for information, followed by the doctor (13%) and magazines at 10%.

“In recent years there has been considerable media coverage of the dangers of food allergies, which has not only raised awareness but has also contributed to a climate of fear amongst consumers.  Clearly a high number of adults are very concerned about food allergies, even if they are not sufferers themselves.  They are acting on their fears, by reading through the wealth of information available and also by speaking to their doctors,” said David Lockwood, senior market analyst at Mintel.

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In addition to this, more than two in five (44%) sufferers say that their allergy or intolerance ‘always’ affects their eating habits, with a further one in four (23%) claiming that it ‘usually’ does.  Food allergies and intolerance are clearly affecting a high number of people’s lives on a regular basis.

In 2004 the total ‘free-from’ market was worth $1,008 million. Within this market, retail sales of gluten-free products were worth approximately $450 million, with retail sales of egg-free products valued at some $18 million. The largest sector, however, was the portion of the soy-based food and drink market that resulted from food allergy or intolerance (i.e. the lactose-free market).  This sector amounted to $540 million.

The soy market grew by some 32% between 2001 and 2004 and Mintel estimates that this sector of the market will grow by a further 20% between 2004 and 2009.  The gluten-free sector experienced even greater growth of some 34% in just two years (2002 – 2004), with this rate of growth expected to continue during 2005 and 2006.