Celiac.com 02/12/2009 - At a time when nearly every sector of the economy is suffering, the market for gluten-free foods is strong and promises to grow at 15%-25% well into the next decade, according to market research company Mintel.

Nielsen Co., reports that the gluten-free products sector increased 20% in the 12-month period ending June 14, to $1.75 billion from $1.46 billion the year before. The overall market for food-allergy and intolerance products will approach $4 billion in 2009 according to New York research firm Packaged Facts. Since 2004, food retailers have added nearly 2500 new gluten free products to their shelves. In 2008 alone, retailers added more than 728 new gluten free products.

It’s not just people with food allergy, celiac disease and gluten intolerance hitting the checkout stand. Mintel estimates that nearly 10% of shoppers currently purchase gluten free foods, and Cynthia Kupper, executive director of the non-profit Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (gluten.net) says that 15% to 25% of shoppers are interested in purchasing gluten free foods—numbers far greater than the 1% of shoppers with celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

As restaurateurs and food purveyors at all levels look to stave off the effects of the recession, a number of them seem to be taking these numbers to heart. More and more of them are looking to see how incorporating gluten-free products into their lineup can help set them apart from the competition and bring in coveted consumer dollars.

Starbucks
At a time when Starbucks is making a concerted effort to save $400 million by brewing decaf after noon only by request, the coffee giant has admitted it is looking at offering a selection of gluten-free snacks as a way to strengthen sales and help its bottom line.

In fact, according to Starbucks "Ideas in Action Blog," Starbucks is soliciting advice from customers in the form of an informal online survey. Among the questions Starbucks is asking: "What specific gluten-free products would you like to see in our stores?" And: "The ingredient costs of gluten-free products tend to be higher, so would you understand if we charged more for the gluten-free version?"

With budget cutbacks touching so many Americans, and thus so many of its own customers, Starbucks, like numerous other vendors, is looking to maintain price premiums as a way to shore up their revenues. The idea is that certain specialty items still fetch a premium even in a recession. Gluten-free products are emerging as a strong contender in that arena.

Certainly, with gluten-free food numbers looking strong and growing through into the next decade, and Starbucks' reputation for visionary business action, the two look to be a logical union. If Starbucks can pull it off, it would be a major boost for the presence of gluten-free foods in mainstream markets.

Pizzeria Uno
One major chain that has moved from the gluten-free trial phase and into the full-fledged roll out phase with lightening speed is the Uno pizzeria chain.

The Pizzeria Uno chain recently found their limited-market trials of gluten-free pizza to be such a resounding success that they are pulling out the stops and moving with all haste to offer gluten-free pizza options at every one of their 200 restaurants nationwide.

Pizzeria Uno clearly understands the strength of the demand and is looking to place itself at the vanguard of commercial dining establishments offering gluten-free food.

If Uno's efforts to introduce gluten-free pizza to America are successful, they just might be changing the face of the pizza world forever. No word if they plan to add any one of the numerous and wonderful gluten-free beers to their menu! Stay tuned.

Some other examples include:
  • General Mills recently announced in that it had reformulated Rice Chex to be gluten-free.
  • Nestlé recently debuted BOOST Kid Essentials Drink a digestion-friendly, lactose free, gluten free drink that does not contain high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Anheuser-Busch introduced Redbridge, a gluten-free beer made from sorghum that the company describes as: “a rich, full-bodied lager brewed from sorghum for a well-balanced, moderately hopped taste.”
  • Hotel chain Four Seasons has announced that Executive Chef Robert Gerstenecker is implementing gluten-free baked goods for afternoon tea.
With these and other developments on the gluten-free food front, it’s clear that gluten-free products are playing a role in the efforts of a number of companies to stave off the effects of recession. Only time will tell how big that role is, and what effects gluten-free will have on the bottom lines of the companies that jump on board.

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