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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Can the Gluten-free Market Continue to Skyrocket?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 02/27/2013 - Although about 1% of the US population, most of whom are undiagnosed, likely have celiac disease, people who have been officially diagnosed with celiac disease make up less than 0.1% of the population.

    Photo: CC--JurvetsonHowever, 6-7% of the population have a wheat/gluten intolerance (confirmed or not) and buy gluten-free products, while a whopping 18% of shoppers surveyed said they buy gluten-free, for whatever reason, according to Packaged Facts.

    These higher percentages are part of what is driving the astronomical growth of the market for gluten-free products.

    In fact, according to the latest survey information by Packaged facts, the market for gluten-free products is growing even faster than anticipated, and is set to reach $6.5 billion in 2017. The question of when this growth will level out, and how strong the market will remain for gluten-free products once that happens remain to be answered.

    Answers to these questions will depend at least in part on the ability of product manufacturers to associate gluten-free products with healthier lifestyles and healthier eating. Meanwhile, manufacturers of gluten-free products are working hard to broaden the appeal of their products, in an effort to expand the gluten-free market even further.

    Until just a few years ago, most gluten-free products were sold by health food retailers, and even as gluten-free products expanded into conventional retailers, they tended to appear in the natural foods sections of those retailers. In fact, says Packaged Facts, mainstream retailers now account for about 79% of gluten-free sales, while the compound annual growth rate for gluten free products in the US retail market 2008-2012 is approaching 28%.

    According to SPINS, sales of gluten-free products were up 19% in the year to September 2012 in natural and conventional channels combined, while Mintel data shows that launches of new gluten-free products rose from 600 in 2007 to more than 1,600 in 2011.

    Meanwhile, Packaged Facts estimates that North America’s share of global gluten-free new product introductions has grown significantly in the past five years, and now stands at over 60%, ahead of Europe, which accounted for about one quarter of introductions. Packaged Facts' August 2012 survey of consumers who buy gluten-free products show that 35% feel that gluten-free products are "generally healthier," 27% bought gluten-free products to "manage weight," 21% said that gluten-free products are "generally low-carb," 15% bought for a member of the household with gluten or wheat sensitivity, while just 7% said they bought gluten-free products for a household member has celiac disease.

    According to Packaged Facts, the conviction that gluten-free is healthier is the top motivation for purchase. Why do consumers think gluten-free is healthier? In some respects, this should not come as a great surprise, given that many gluten-free products also happen to be all-natural, organic, and free from GMOs, artificial preservatives and other things many consumers are trying to avoid, says Packaged Facts.

    In fact, a number of food manufacturers work hard to create foods that can be marketed as healthy, with such tags as these from Ian's products: No Artificial Flavors, Colors, or Preservatives... EVER! No Hydrogenated Oil. No Trans Fats. No Refined Sugars. No Antibiotics. No Hormones. No Bleached Flours. No Tripolyphosphates.

    Jayne Minigell, director of marketing at Elevation Brands, which owns Ian’s, says that this approach is helping to create consistent double-digit growth, driving revenues to more than $30 million annually.

    At Udi’s, America's #1 gluten free bread and baked goods company wants people with celiac disease to feel like they are eating regular food, and to make everyone else feel like eating gluten-free foods is normal, according to marketing manager Regan Han.

    Do you eat gluten-free foods as part of a gluten-free diet? Do you regard gluten-free products as healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts? Do you think this growth is a good thing? Will it last?

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    I have to eat gluten free (thanks, celiac disease) and love the growth of gluten-free products. This doesn't even address the quality of products being so much higher than it used to be. However, I know the other shoe is going to drop sooner or later and I will be totally bummed when it does. Scrounging health food stores for awful breads that are only palatable toasted was the worst. I do not look forward to that day. In fact, I may just start hoarding gluten-free Betty Crocker Baking and Bisquick mixes now...

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    I don't believe that the gluten-free market is going to be able to keep asking the high prices they are currently asking. My family is gluten intolerant, and we eat gluten-free. However, eating gluten-free, whether we buy dessert already made (cookies), or we buy gluten-free dessert mixes to make, or we buy all of the ingredients (flours, etc.) to make breads and desserts at home, completely and totally gluten-free -- it doesn't make a difference WHICH way we buy the product(s) because in the end, we still end up paying A LOT OF MONEY for them.

     

    It is tapping us financially. Combine that with other food intolerances and allergies, and we're pretty much forced to pay a large percentage of our paycheck for allergen-free food. We can't keep paying the prices they want, and if they continue asking for higher and higher prices, then we'll be forced to completely and totally stop buying/eating their products. And I'm not sure what we'll do when we're forced to do that.

     

    Another thing; many gluten-free companies have taken to using soy flour and other soy products to make their gluten-free products. We all know why they do it -- it cuts their cost to make the product, because soy is cheap. However, for those of us who cannot eat soy because we are allergic/intolerant to it -- it takes a whole bunch more gluten-free products off the market for us to buy.

     

    And let's not forget the fact that those with celiac disease also usually have lactose intolerance, and many people with gluten intolerance have casein or whey allergies. Why, then, do so many gluten-free producers and restaurants put so much cow's milk products (I'm thinking specifically of cheese here) in their gluten-free recipes? Technically, those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance can't eat those products with cow's milk in them. I know we can't.

     

    And many gluten-free products are made with highly refined "white" gluten-free flours instead of nutrient-dense flours that impart more nutrients for the body and are healthier. Again, this is done because the highly refined "white" flours are cheaper to use.

     

    While there are many more products on the market and the taste has improved, there is still a ways to go in having good quality, available, and affordable gluten-free foods available.

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    I am undiagnosed gluten-intolerant and so keep to a gluten-free diet to stay symptom-free. Here in Spain there are not so many gluten-free products available but the selection is certainly much bigger than it was a couple of years ago. Of course, I hope that this will continue, and then maybe one day I will be able to buy decent bread, biscuits and pizza and stop making them myself. I think that the gluten-free market will level out eventually though I don't think it will go backwards, hopefully a spinoff will be healthier food available for everyone as people become more aware of what they eat and with GMO's, hormones and chemicals blacklisted.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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