When Joel Warady began working as a consultant to Enjoy Life Foods in the early 2000s, the small maker of gluten-free products was struggling to differentiate itself. "We'd heard that the (Food & Drug Administration) had designated eight common food allergens," recalls Warady, today the company's chief sales and marketing officer. "So we said, 'Well, what if we were gluten-free and free of the top eight?' We certainly didn't know the size of the opportunity."
That naive gambit, he jokes, has turned out beautifully.
Today, Chicago-based Enjoy Life—which posted revenue of about $40 million in 2014 and was acquired by Deerfield food giant Mondelez International for $81 million the following year—has emerged as a leader in the rapidly growing "allergy-friendly" packaged-foods category. The company, whose sales grew at a 40 percent year-over-year clip between 2011 and 2013, continues to see double-digit growth.
Estimates of the allergy-friendly food market are inexact, as most researchers lump it into the larger gluten-free category (itself projected to grow to $7.6 billion by 2020). Meanwhile, data providers Nielsen and IRI don't include Whole Foods Markets—a major purveyor of allergy-friendly lines—or Amazon in their sales data. But the allergy-friendly subset is undoubtedly increasing as more and more Americans deal with what can be a life-threatening issue. The rate of anaphylactic reactions to food, which can include throat swelling and difficulty breathing, increased 377 percent between 2007 and 2016, according to Fair Health, a nonprofit organization that analyzes billions of private health insurance claims. Reactions to peanuts increased 445 percent, while those to tree nuts and seeds spiked sixfold.
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