by Cara Rasch
January 3, 2022
Prevalence of food allergies based on medical data is growing, and self-reported rates of food allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances encompass an even larger proportion of the population. In 2020 and 2021, the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant effect on consumer food purchases and desires for health and wellness. Packaged Facts has found that more people have discovered they may have a food allergy or intolerance/sensitivity during the pandemic, causing them to seek out allergy friendly foods in greater numbers.
Allergy friendly foods emphasize that products are “free from” certain allergen ingredients and may have a third-party certification (e.g., Certified Gluten-Free). Products that are “free from” the “big 8” major allergens (i.e., eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soybeans, tree nuts, and wheat/gluten) are important to those with food allergies, as are products that lack other common food allergens such as sesame, sulfites, mustard, and corn.
Allergy friendly products are the most important to consumers with diagnosed food allergies that cause allergic reactions (harmful immune responses) such as anaphylaxis, tingling or itching in the mouth, hives, itching, eczema, or swelling. Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening reaction occurring within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen that requires medical treatment.
Allergy friendly foods are also valuable to the much larger number of people who have food intolerances or sensitivities that cause unpleasant digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
It is hard to know for sure how many people have food allergies or intolerances. Some people with these conditions may only experience infrequent or mild symptoms, and thus they may not get a diagnosis or perceive that certain foods are linked with their symptoms.
Conversely, some people may think they have a food allergy or intolerance based on their symptoms while not actually having these conditions. As such, self-reported data on food allergies and intolerances only provides one aspect of the story.
According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), researchers estimate that 32 million Americans have food allergies. FARE also reports that about 11% of U.S. adults have a food allergy and that nearly 8% of children under age 18 have a food allergy. The most common food allergies in order are shellfish, milk, peanuts, and tree nuts.
Packaged Facts’ National Online Consumer Survey conducted in October-November 2021 indicates a higher prevalence of food allergies among adult respondents and their children: 14% of respondents report being allergic to certain foods, while 17% of respondents with children report that their child has food allergies. Even more respondents report food intolerances or sensitivities in themselves and their children.
Although those personally suffering from food allergies are a minority, clearly many others are affected when they have a family member, coworker, friend, or acquaintance with a food allergy.
Those who are parents of children are often especially aware of food allergy issues due to needing to watch out for food allergies among their children’s peers. For instance, parents who pack lunches or snacks for their child’s activities often have to be sure that the foods are allergy friendly even if their child does not have a food allergy. It is common that organizations such as daycares, schools, or sports teams have policies requiring allergy friendly foods since there are a number of children with food allergies that need to be accommodated.
Additional analysis of the market for allergy friendly foods can be found in the December 2021 Packaged Facts report Allergy Friendly Foods: Market Trends and Opportunities.
About the blogger: Cara Rasch is a food and beverage analyst for Packaged Facts. She studies consumer and industry trends in this space and has a B.A. in economics from Allegheny College.
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