Press Room

Over 4-in-10 Britons eating specialised diets

1 in 5 households suffers from food allergies or intolerances
“Free From” category could be as big as mineral water within two years

London – 27 September, 2016. Due to dietary or health and wellness concerns, over four in 10 Britons now avoid certain ingredients in what they eat and drink, according to new research from Nielsen.

Forty-two percent report eating a diet that excludes or limits consumption of some foods or ingredients. Antibiotics/hormones are the most common ingredients avoided (49%) followed by artificial additives, such as flavours, preservatives and sweeteners (45%) and sugar (42%). Genetically-modified foods (41%) follow next, narrowly ahead of products provided in packaging made with the chemical BPA (40%), which some campaign groups claim is linked to cancer.

Britons’ desire to limit less healthy ingredients is illustrated by volume sales of sugar declining 8.1%¹ year-on-year and soup, often high in sodium, declining 10.7%¹. Among the 14 countries in which Nielsen measures sugar sales, Britain sees the second biggest fall. Among the 16 countries in which it measures soup, Britain has the third largest fall.

Health concerns

One in five (19%) UK households contains someone who suffers from food allergies or intolerances, although this is much lower than the global average (36%). The most common ingredients avoided in the UK for these reasons are grains (43%), eggs (38%), lactose/diary (36%), gluten (30%) and carbohydrates (24%).

Indeed, sales of “Free From” products have risen 19% in the UK over the last year to £754m annually². Mike Watkins, Nielsen’s UK head of retailer and business insight notes, “It’s one of the fastest growing categories and, consequently, supermarkets are extending ranges. If this growth rate continues, ‘Free From’ would be a £1 billion market within two years – the same size as today’s mineral water market.”

Watkins goes on to point out four “macro-trends” that are driving people to pay more attention to what they consume: People are adopting a more back-to-basics mind-set, focusing on simple ingredients and fewer processed foods; they’re also taking a more active role in their own health care, which includes better nutrition, itself a reflection of the rising trend in chronic-disease rates. Finally, consumers are increasingly educated due to the internet providing access to more health information than could ever have been dreamed of in the past.”

Relating to the rise in disease and illness rates, one in five Britons say their dietary choice is specifically due to helping prevent conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol or hypertension. The World Health Organization says chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer are expected to account for 73% of deaths globally by 2020, up from about 60% in 2001.

What can retailers and manufacturers do?

Over four in 10 (42%) of people with specialised diets or family members with food intolerances say product offerings don’t fully meet their dietary needs. All-natural (34%) and low/no sugar (31%) products top the list that consumers wish there were more of on shelves, followed by no artificial flavours/colours (29%) and low/no fat (25%) products.

“Consumers need help from manufacturers and retailers when it comes to changing diets to address various concerns, particularly as some are prioritising ingredients over brands” said Watkins. “It’s a win-win for both groups as it provides the industry with a significant opportunity to drive new and alternative product portfolios that people want to buy for the long-term – boosting the bottom line and building a loyal shopper base.”

¹Source: Nielsen Scantrack 52 weeks ending 10 September 2016
²Source: Nielsen Scantrack 52 weeks ending 13 August 2016


The findings in this survey are based on respondents with online access in 63 countries (unless otherwise noted). While an online survey methodology allows for tremendous scale and global reach, it provides a perspective on the habits of only existing internet users, not total populations. In addition, survey responses are based on claimed behaviour, rather than actual metered data. Cultural differences in reporting sentiment are likely factors in the outlook across countries. The reported results do not attempt to control or correct for these differences; therefore, caution should be exercised when comparing across countries and regions, particularly across regional boundaries.


The Nielsen scanning service measures total store sales every week by SKU for 20,000 shops across all food and drink trade channels in GB. This uses the actual EPOS data from retailers, thus, Scantrack is the most robust and reliable measure of FMCG sales and is integrated with Homescan for the key indicators of retailer performance. The total market measured is £145bn per annum. ‘Grocery Multiples’ is a defined sub-set of the major supermarkets that also includes all food sales from Marks and Spencer (but excludes Aldi and Lidl). The Grocery Multiples account for over £120bn of all GB food, drink and supermarket general merchandise sales.


Nielsen Holdings plc (NYSE: NLSN) is a global performance management company that provides a comprehensive understanding of what consumers Watch and Buy. The Company’s Watch segment provides media and advertising clients with Nielsen Total Audience measurement services across all devices where content—video, audio and text—is consumed. The Buy segment offers consumer packaged goods manufacturers and retailers the industry’s only global view of retail performance measurement. By integrating information from its Watch and Buy segments and other data sources, Nielsen provides its clients with both world-class measurement as well as analytics that help improve performance. Nielsen, an S&P 500 company, has operations in over 100 countries that cover more than 90% of the world’s population. For more information, visit