Formulators have many challenges, but creating or optimizing gluten-free (GF) products can be one of their toughest assignments. Understanding the alternative, non-gluten ingredients is the best place to begin. Common obstacles to a gluten-free formulation often include dry mouthfeel, graininess and a short shelflife. Significant improvements can be achieved by selecting a combination of grains (each providing a slightly different functionality), rice-based emulsifiers and dough conditioners, to improve texture, moisture and shelflife. Gums and starches often play an important role in texture and mouthfeel, also.

The next issue will be determining the type of production facilities (gluten-free dedicated, cleaned or co-packed). The key concern is avoiding cross-contamination of GF products with gluten. Unfortunately, minor ingredients sometimes feature a percentage of wheat-/gluten-containing grains. This makes producing a GF, good-tasting, appetizing product with a nice texture that appeals to consumers--all at a reasonable price--all the more challenging. Interestingly, most gluten-free foods sell for at least twice the price of gluten-containing foods.

“Gluten-free consumers are extremely diligent label readers. Rice is one of the safest ingredients they can see on the label,” explained Steve Peirce, president of RIBUS Inc. The rice crop has become more sustainable over the past few years, due to 100% crop utilization and the development of new functional ingredients from this “simple” grain:
* Rice hulls -- Used to replace silicon dioxide and to function as a flavor carrier.
* Rice bran -- Used as an emulsifier, replacing soy lecithin, a dough conditioner and a source of rice oil.
* White rice -- Used for flour, starch, syrup, protein and maltodextrin.

Since 1992, RIBUS Inc. has been the producer of a full line of rice-based, gluten-free ingredients for use in many food applications. Their team is able to provide formulation assistance, lists of GF co-packers, GF consultants, GF ingredient sources, GF certifiers and market information, informed Peirce. “The consumer is very active via the Internet, blogs, support groups and word-of-mouth...Consumers are seeking information on products, science and peer opinions/experiences.”

Australia and New Zealand have the strictest GF standard at <5ppm of gluten; the U.S. (proposed) and the U.K. have a <20ppm standard. Canada requires “free from gluten-containing grain,” while Europe and several other countries follow the Codex Alimentarius system. The U.S. is the only country where people focus on celiac disease, without a governmental health department overseeing the issue. Much of Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada do have such health departments.

Consumer Satisfaction
In a study done by the Gluten Intolerance Group in 2008, pasta had the highest consumer satisfaction, at 60% (an unacceptable number for most food producers). Breads showed a 10-20% satisfaction, desserts scored 20%, cookies ranked near 30%, and frozen meals were around 25%. Based on these figures, there is a strong need for improved formulations addressing taste, texture, flavor and mouthfeel.

This will prove more difficult, as consumers have raised the bar with each generation or version of new GF foods. “GF version 1.0 was satisfied with free from gluten, version 1.5 wants improved texture and taste, while version 2.0 expects added nutrients, vitamins and fiber (elements that often are lacking in GF foods and consumers’ diets),” explained Peirce. ?

Gluten-free consumers fall into two groups, explained Peirce. First is the “needs-based consumer,” consisting of the diagnosed and undiagnosed celiacs (those suffering from celiac disease--about 1% of the population), as well as those who have some level of intolerance, sensitivity or exhibit occasional allergic reactions (estimates vary widely between 5-15% of the population).  The presence or consumption of gluten will typically cause immediate diarrhea.

The second group is an “interest-based consumer” (about 10-12% of the population), which can be family members of a gluten-intolerant person who will adopt a GF diet, so there is only one dietary pattern in a household; or, it may be someone that believes a gluten-free diet will help them.

Gluten-free food sales in the U.S. have grown at a rate of 20-25% a year since 2004. Estimated sales in 2008 were $1.6 billion, with 2012 sales projected to hit $2.6 billion.  pf

For more information:
RIBUS Inc. • St. Louis, Mo.
Steve Peirce • •