Free-from Q4 2017
This quarter confirmed that free-from is no longer limited to an aisle: its presence can be felt around the store. With a perception of being ‘healthier’ and with large brands crossing over by launching their own free-from ranges, it’s no surprise that 78% of British shoppers bought into the category at some point in 2017 (Kantar). So what media choices are brands – and retailers – opting for to capitalise on peaking interest, particularly in the run-up to Christmas?
The category continued to see new product launches this quarter, with significant media presence in-aisle to convert shoppers already visiting that area of the store. This followed through online too – namely from existing brands which are not synonymous with the category. For example, Unilever’s launch of the Ben & Jerry’s free-from range opted for branded online search to bring their ice-cream into a free-from shopper’s consideration. The use of such media shows even large brands are keen to attract or re-acquire the growing numbers of shoppers turning to free-from.
A mix of brands continue to opt for non-category specific media in order to drive awareness earlier in the shopper journey. For example, in its launch campaign for Food Should Taste Good, General Mills made use of branded front-of-store ATM media to communicate its flavour credentials and the sharing occasion to appeal to shoppers who may never have considered free-from. Similar can be said of Alpro advertising in retailer magazines. This at-home media educates a shopper on its brand values and – while it does work to differentiate its products from direct competitors – it also widens the brand’s appeal to ethically conscious shoppers.
Across the major supermarkets, the free-from category was signposted to shoppers in December explicitly for the Christmas occasion, capitalising on the trend for an alternative Christmas meal in line with the rise in a free-from lifestyle, with retailers showcasing their wide offering. While this directional media is positive for the category, brands in the category would do well to make sure they aren’t left vulnerable to the threat from the increasingly diverse own-label offering – which represented 19% of the category’s growth this year (The Grocer). This can be achieved through a mix of: in-aisle media to clinch a shopper at the point of decision-making and out-of-aisle branded media to communicate a brand’s key USPs.
the Super Six: retailer comparison
When comparing the free-from aisle in a similar timeframe in the Super Six a few observations can be made:
Across the Super Six, many supermarkets made use of media in the free-from aisle. Often, this would be to demonstrate the variety of products or – and particularly in December – to alert shoppers that other free-from products can be found elsewhere in the store. Retailers are increasingly keen to signpost their free-from sections and particularly to promote own-label products within these communications. While brands are still making use of media such as fins and pings to talk ‘new’ in aisle, it’s important that brands consider the entire path to purchase given the increasing appeal of the category and the numbers of traditionally non-free-from brands entering into the category. Brands with larger free-from ranges can create brand-blocking on shelf, and many make use of shelf-ready packaging. These are good ways to create stand-out but it should be noted that these are also being employed by own-label, putting more pressure on brands to reach shoppers through media before they reach the aisle.
While in-aisle media remains important in a growing category, talking brand values or USPs before the shopper enters the aisle will also help to differentiate free-from brands against not only each other but the increasingly strong presence of own-label options being listed and appearing in retailer-led media.
Free-from brands should look to ensure where possible that they are visible through shopper media in ‘mainstream’ categories in order to steal from beyond the free-from category – rather than allowing for the inverse to take place.