Health-Conscious Shoppers Send 'Free From' Product Sales Surging Past Tea

Fresh fruit and "free from" products are the year's fastest-growing grocery items as Britons embrace healthy eating, figures show.

Shoppers in the UK spent £175.6 million more on fresh fruit this year than they did last year, while sales of "free from" products increased by £122.9 million or 18.9%, according to Nielsen's annual analysis of supermarket till sales.

The growth of "free from" means it is now worth £772.2 million a year and has become a bigger category than tea.

Sparkling wine is the only other category to see sales rise by more than £100 million this year, at £101.9 million or 15.5%.

Bottled water was the fourth fastest-growing category, seeing a sales increase of £81.9 million to take it past the £1 billion mark.

Britons spent nearly £50 million more on avocados this year, making it the single fastest-growing food or drink item.

Mike Watkins, Nielsen's UK head of retailer and business insight, said: "To some, 'free from' may still have the air of an 'alternative' or niche category but it's now nearly 40% 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."

The Grocer editor Adam Leyland, 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 as 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."

Dairy-free brand Alpro is the most popular free-from brand with annual sales at £151.9 million, followed by Lactofree (£49.2 million), aimed at lactose intolerance, and grain-free snack brand Nakd (£36.3 million).