Healthy food on menu as fruit and 'free from' sales top 2016 growth chart

Fresh fruit and 'free from' foods have soared in popularity over the past year as shoppers turn to healthy eating.

Fruit was on of biggest growth markets this year.

The market for “free from” products such as items without gluten or dairy is now bigger than that for British staple, tea, the research revealed.

An analysis of till sales shows shoppers in the UK spent an extra £175.6 million on fresh fruit this year, compared to last year, while sales of “free-from” products rose by £122.9m or 18 per cent.

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However, at the other end of the health spectrum, sparkling wine is the only other category to see sales increase more than £100m in 2016.

Meanwhile, nearly £50m more was spent on avocados this year compared to the previous twelve months, making it the single fastest-growing food or drink item in the UK, as health conscious celebrity chefs continue to laud its benefits in their recipes.

E-cigarettes also enjoyed string growth, with sales rocketing by a fifth as more outlets dedicated to “vaping” opened on British high streets.

Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at Nielsen’s UK, which compiled the report, said: “The nation is increasingly concerned about diet and health – over four in 10 Britons now actively avoid certain ingredients in what they eat and drink – which is reflected in fresh fruit and free-from being the fastest-growing categories.”

The ‘free from’ market is now a bigger category than instant coffee and sparkling wine, as rocketing sales took its value to £772.2m this year.

Mr Watkins added: “To some, free-from may still have the air of an “alternative” or niche category but it’s now nearly 40 per cent bigger than a signature staple of British consumption – tea.

“It’s gone from being the preserve of medical condition purchasing, on its own small shelf space, to a lifestyle or general health choice punctuating the likes of ice cream, biscuits, butter, baby food and cough medicine.

“As one of the fastest growing categories, retailers are now giving free-from more space on shelves and it’ll eventually feature in nearly every category and aisle.”

Dairy-free brand Alpro is the most popular free-from brand with annual sales at £151.9 million, followed by Lactofree, aimed at people with lactose intolerance, and grain-free snack brand Nakd.

Adam Leyland, editor of The Grocer, who analysed Nielsen’s data, said: “Fresh fruit’s rise has a lot to do with avocados, whose sales have surged by more than a third, as well blueberries and raspberries.

“Prized as a source of ‘good’ fats and lauded by food bloggers such as Deliciously Ella and Gwyneth Paltrow, avocados are now Britain’s eighth bestselling fruit.”

Bottled water is the fourth fastest grower, a rise of £81.9m taking it past the £1 billion mark.

Sales of spirits and lager remained fairly static, growing by less than two per cent each, but they still held their place in the top ten fastest growing products by product value increase.

The report utilises ‘Electronic Point of Sale’ data from the major supermarkets, including food and drinks sales from Marks & Spencer, but excluding discounters Aldi and Lidl.