Food allergies are impacting more than half the U.S. population

15 Mar 2021

Just over half of the U.S. population (51%) is impacted by food allergies or sensitivities, according to a new study by That’s It which used the Suzy marketing platform. This number is not necessarily those who have to contend with food allergies themselves, but rather those people who need to consider food allergies when shopping due to a close family member, friend or colleague that is affected.

This study underscores the fact that the number of those dealing with food allergies in the U.S. continues to rise. From 1997 to 2011, the Center for Disease Control & Prevention reported a 50% increase in food allergies in children. Last year, research from Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) found one in four Americans needed to avoid purchasing products with one of the top nine allergens.

Food allergies are impacting more than half the U.S. population
Image via Corleto Peanut Butter on Unsplash

As the number of individuals within the U.S. population affected by food allergies increases, so too does the dollar sales figure associated with these products. Families caring for children with food allergies spent $25 billion in 2020, according to research from FARE.

While there are currently eight major allergens (milk, egg, soy, peanut, wheat, fish, shellfish, tree nuts) that are required to be labeled on packaging, sesame is another ingredient that is causing increased numbers of food-related illnesses in the U.S. population. To assist families in identifying the presence of this allergen, FARE introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that will require labeling sesame as an allergen on packaged foods. If the inclusion of sesame in packaged products were more clearly identified, it will impact nearly 1.6 million Americans and reduce some of the emotional stress tied up in food allergies, according to the advocacy firm. According to the study by That’s It, 65% of those surveyed indicated that they feel anxious when buying a new food product for the first time.

This anxiety propels many families to spend significant amounts of money to purchase brands that they trust. That’s It found in its survey that 61% of consumers are willing to pay more for food products from an allergy-free brand that they trust. Unfortunately, the higher food cost for families affected by food allergies is not a burden that all can bear equally. For vulnerable and underrepresented communities, affording the 5% premium that FARE identified as necessary for an allergy-friendly grocery shopping trip is not always possible.

"We must and we will step up our efforts to serve Black, Latino and Indigenous communities that suffer with these life-threatening food allergies," said Lisa Gable, Chief Executive Officer of FARE.

Part of accomplishing this goal is by providing brands that are affordable and widely available. While there is a growing number of small startups like That’s It and Partake Foods that are offering allergy-friendly snack solutions, there are also bigger brands like Mondelez's Enjoy Life that are finding their way into grocery stores. However, to cater to the allergy-friendly food segment that is growing at 27% per year, brands will need to continue to provide alternatives for those that are living with food allergies.