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Gluten-free Market Growing Beyond Celiac Disease


The gluten-free market is growing fast! Photo: CC-herval

Celiac.com 04/11/2011 - After years of being relegated to the specialty foods category, gluten-free foods have gone mainstream.  Since 2005, sales of gluten-free products have more than doubled, and the number of new gluten-free goods is expanding rapidly.

Rockville, Md.-based research firm Packaged Facts, calculates that U.S. retail sales of gluten-free products rose from just under 1 billion dollars in 2006 to $2.3-billion dollars in 2010. 

The firm's 2011 Gluten Free Foods and Beverages report projects those sales to to top $2.6 billion dollars by 2012, and to nearly double to $5.5-billion by 2015. A similar trend is under way in Canada, although precise national figures are not available.

Recently, cereal giant General Mills transformed its popular Rice Chex cereal into a gluten-free product without any change to the taste, simply by substituting molasses for barley-based sweetener. General Mills also acquired the Larabar brand of gluten free nutrition bars with an eye toward expanding that brand. As of November 2010, General Mills claims to offer 250 gluten-free products, including five varieties of Chex and numerous products under the venerable Betty Crocker and Bisquick brands.  

As vastly more people buy gluten-free foods as part of a healthier lifestyle choice, rather than just to address celiac disease or dietary intolerances, those products are no longer "regarded as a niche product that was only of interest to people who couldn’t tolerate wheat, gluten-free foods and beverages."

Rather, this newfound interest beyond the traditional gluten-free market has quickly transformed gluten-free products into what Packaged Facts calls a "mainstream sensation, embraced by consumers both out of necessity and as a personal choice toward achieving a healthier way to live."

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While many market researchers looking into the growth of the gluten free market have speculated that under-diagnosis of celiac disease is a major driver, Packaged Facts found that this may not be the case.

Packaged Facts conducted a online nationwide survey of 1,881 adults in fall 2010, including 277 consumers of gluten free products. Survey results showed that nearly half of people (46%) who buy gluten-free foods and beverages did so based on a perception that they are ‘generally healthier’. Thirty percent of gluten free consumers said they did so in an effort to manage their weight and 22 percent said they thought gluten free products were ‘generally higher quality’.

Only about ten percent of gluten free consumers said they bought gluten free products because they or a member of their household has celiac disease or an intolerance to gluten, wheat or other ingredients.

“Interestingly, 13 percent buy gluten free foods to treat other conditions that may or may not be associated with diet,” the report notes.

Packaged Facts also found that food manufacturers are blending more ancient grains, such as quinoa and amaranth into their gluten free products, whites increases nutrition, and may enhance flavor.

“Enrichment and fortification are smart marketing under just about any circumstances, but for gluten-free foods it’s a more critical issue, as GF diets are often lacking in essential nutrients,” the report said.

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