Celiac.com 02/25/2005 - Move over low-carb and sugar-free! New research shows that the need for a gluten-free diet is 10 times higher than experts originally predicted. Retailers should prepare to meet the needs of this growing niche, say two experts on the gluten-free diet.

This is the message that Shelley Case, RD and Carol Fenster, Ph.D. will bring to retailers at the Natural Products Expo West trade show on March 17 at the Anaheim Convention Center. Case is a dietitian who counsels gluten-free patients and is the author of Gluten-Free Diet, www.glutenfreediet.ca. Fenster is a chef who develops gluten-free products for manufacturers and is the author of Gluten-Free 101, www.glutenfree101.com.

This diet is not a fad, they explain, but a medically prescribed avoidance of gluten which is a protein in wheat that is toxic for some people. The two experts will help retailers understand the medical necessity of the gluten-free diet and how stores can stock their shelves and market effectively to gluten-free consumers.

"Food manufacturers are responding to the need for gluten-free products. According to the Natural Foods Merchandiser, the number of gluten-free products jumped 88% between 2002 and 2003," says Fenster, who has been gluten-free for 15 years. Total food dollars spent on allergies and intolerances––gluten-free products are a part of this––will rise to nearly $4 billion by 2008, she adds.

People who need gluten-free diets are those with allergies or intolerances to wheat or related grains such as barley, rye, spelt, and possibly oats. Nearly 3 million Americans have celiac disease, an autoimmune form of gluten intolerance in which gluten damages the ability to absorb nutrients. The condition can be fatal if not treated with a gluten-free diet.

"There is no magic pill or surgery for gluten intolerance," says Case, who has been counseling gluten-free patients for 20 years. "The only treatment is total avoidance of gluten for the rest of ones life. This makes the gluten-free consumer a repeat buyer––and very attractive to retailers."

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