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Gluten-Free ... Fad Or Fixture?

Will gluten-free products continue to be a fixture in the food industry, or will it be just a small blip on the food radar?

DatamonitorThe global gluten-free market is set to grow by $1.2 billion over the next five years, and is expected to be worth more than $4.3 billion, according to independent market analyst Datamonitor. However, will gluten-free continue to be such a fixture in the food industry, or will it be just a small blip on the food radar? Datamonitor consumer analyst Mark Whalley spoke to Food Manufacturing about this trend and the impact it could have on the food industry.

Q: Datamonitor’s research indicates the U.S. market for gluten-free products could grow by more than $500 million by 2014, making the US contribution to the global market 53 percent. How has gluten-free become so popular so quickly in America?

A: There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the U.S. is the biggest food market in the western world, and as such, the variety and range of products on offer here are often greater than elsewhere. Secondly, the Asian diet means that very few consumers in Asia are celiacs (or recognized as such) so there is not a big market there. Awareness of gluten intolerance and subsequent ability to be diagnosed is also probably highest here. Finally, consumers in the U.S. are particularly susceptible to “fad” dietary choices, so there may well be a higher percentage of non-celiac gluten-free consumers in America than any other market.

Q: A greater awareness of celiac disease seems to also contribute to a growth in gluten-free product offerings. Are there more cases of celiac disease being reported, or is something else motivating people to go gluten-free?

A: People who suffer from gluten intolerance do not necessarily understand what the problem is, and even those who seek medical advice can be misdiagnosed. As awareness grows, however, this ceases to be the case more and more. The more people who know their condition, the bigger the market.

Q: How do you see gluten-free consumers who do not suffer from celiac disease impacting the market?

A: They will only impact on the market significantly if the quality (and taste) of the products is recognized as being good. Right now, many gluten-free products have a reputation as not being the most pleasing in sensory terms, so those experimenting or trying products because they think they might have health benefits will not keep up consumption for long if they are not satisfied.

Q: Your studies indicate that gluten-free demand may plateau in the future. Given such information, how should gluten-free food producers move forward? Should food manufacturers not already on board with the gluten-free trend pursue it, or would such a move present too much risk?

A: Manufacturers need to concentrate on taste and product variety. I would say that entering into the market is somewhat risky, but there is also potential to really become “the face of gluten-free,” especially if new categories are explored.

Q: What are the biggest obstacles facing gluten-free food manufacturing today?

A: Even if products do taste good, consumers don’t really know this. Perception has to be changed. Current perception is that gluten-free foods are a necessity for celiacs, and as such, do not necessarily taste good because manufacturers are inhibited by what they can and can’t use in product formulation. Gluten-free bread is something which has a reputation of not tasting very nice. In many ways this is a problem also experienced in the soy market. It’s difficult to change perceptions, but focusing on indulgence credentials in product marketing is a good start.

Q: What advice would you give a company looking into gluten-free production?

A: Be creative with categories. Celiacs need as much choice as possible, so providing them with options is a must. Most launches are in the potato chips, cereal bars and savory snacks market. There is a particular problem with products that use dough. Gluten-free pizza is an interesting idea which has surfaced relatively recently.

Interview by Lindsey Coblentz, Associate Editor, Food Manufacturing