Just how big is the gluten-free market? A study in the August 2012 American Journal of Gastroenterology finds 1.6 million American consumers follow a gluten-free diet, and this refers only to gluten-free consumers that have not been diagnosed with celiac disease. Meanwhile, a study led by Mayo Clinic estimates roughly 1.8 million Americans have the disease, but 1.4 million are unaware of the fact.
This is not to say that the market has suffered for that lack of awareness. In fact, even throughout the economic turmoil of recent years, gluten-free food and beverage sales have continued to exceed even the most generous of expectations.
A report from Packaged Facts finds the market for gluten-free foods reached $4.2 billion in 2012 and -- further indicating its monumental rise in popularity -- this sector experienced a compound annual growth rate of 28% from 2008 to 2012. While sales of gluten-free products have grown almost across the board in grocery aisles, snack/granola bars proved to be the leading category, accounting for 15% of mass-market sales.
In August 2012, Packaged Facts surveyed consumers and found 18% of adults either purchased or consumed foods bearing a gluten-free claim -- a percentage up from the 15% reported in October 2010. Also indicating the strength of the trend, Packaged Facts reports: “The share of gluten-free consumers who are buying more of these foods has skyrocketed, and the share of total shoppers who are buying more gluten-free foods has doubled.”
The chief motivation for these consumers, judging by Packaged Facts’ findings, is the notion that gluten-free products are generally regarded as healthier, overall. Of course, for those with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet actually is healthier (mandatory, in fact). Those consumers have to avoid wheat, rye and barley—anything with the protein gluten. However, roughly 80% of consumers following a gluten-free diet are doing so without a diagnosis of celiac disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Diversity in Gluten-free
Those in search of gluten-free foods and beverages are finding greater diversity in the marketplace. Indeed, frozen pizzas alone have seen a host of introductions just within the past year.
Consider the example of Daiya Foods Inc., which not only added to its line of gluten-, dairy- and soy-free cheeses, but then expanded into the frozen pizza segment. Daiya offers dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free pizza; the line includes Cheese Lover’s; Fire-roasted Vegetable; Margherita; and Mushroom & Roasted Garlic varieties.
Daiya certainly has not been alone. Smart Flour Foods added a range of gluten-, egg- and soy-free pizzas made with ancient grains (sorghum, amaranth and teff). Interestingly, these products also promise “No Rice Flour.” Options include Uncured Pepperoni, Garden Margherita, Classic Cheese and simple pizza crusts.
Bold Organics, one exhibitor at the 2013 Natural Products Expo West (NPEW), also featured gluten-free (and dairy-free) frozen pizzas, all from recipes by award-winning chef Eric Brenner. At NPEW, he told Prepared Foods that the line has been formulated without eggs or nuts, as well, and includes four options: Vegan Cheese, Veggie Lovers, Meat Lovers and Deluxe.
How about more chef-inspired products? Chef Anthony Russo’s Premium Products introduced a gluten-free pizza in six different varieties: New York style Cheese, Chicken Rustica, Greek, Margherita, Mulberry and Pepperoni. Others, such as Gluten Free Bistro, took a portion-controlled approach to its frozen gluten-free pizza launch. The company’s Bistro Bites boxes feature four mini-pizzas in one of two varieties: Pepperoni or Margherita. They promise to be “free of most allergens.”
With such an assortment of gluten-free frozen pizzas, one could be forgiven for suspecting a lack of other entrée options for these consumers. However, a tour of the aisles at the 2013 NPEW found no cause for concern.
Tolerant Foods has planned a range of pasta dishes that it says will be gluten-free and high in iron. Likewise, Viviana Foods expanded its line with new pastas, all from its dedicated gluten-, dairy-, soy- and nut-free facility. Options in the 10-item line include Spinach Basil Garlic Linguini, Plain Linguini, Lemon Garlic Orzo, Plain Orzo, Sweet Potato Orzo, Wild Mushroom Linguini, Garlic Toasted Onion Fettuccine, Plain Fettuccine, Sweet Potato Fettuccine and Tomato Basil Fettuccine. All products contain rice flour and eggs.
RP’s Pasta Co. also is in the gluten-free pasta business. Its fettuccine, linguini, fusilli and lasagna varieties all contain brown rice flour, starch and egg as primary ingredients.
Parts to Play
Gluten-free claims are extending into other entrée arenas, too. Starfish Inc. promises to “give fish sticks a good name” with its new line of gluten-free, oven-ready fish sticks. The company also boasts a line of gluten-free, panko-breaded shrimp, noting all of its gluten-free seafood is tested down to 5 parts gluten per million (5ppm), which is well below the FDA’s projected gluten-free requirement of 20ppm.
Such a level (5ppm) also is standard for all of Ian’s Natural Foods, says Chuck Marble, CEO of Ian’s parent company, Elevation Brands. The company is well-known for its fish sticks and chicken nuggets, but it is expanding to include a French bread pizza (and more options coming in the next few months, he notes). The company is repositioning itself to a degree, with a new look designed to reinforce the brand’s position as a source of allergen-friendly foods “For Life.”
Soups and sauces have also seen a host of gluten-free applications. Harry’s Fresh Foods may not be an entirely gluten-free company, but it has added a pair of gluten-free soups: Southwestern-Style Chicken and Corn Chowder, and Carrot and Ginger Bisque (also vegetarian).
Boulder Soup Works has an entire range of gluten-free soups. Its varieties include such flavors as Soy Ginger with Shiitake, Red Lentil Dahl, Garden Minestrone, Carrot Ginger with Coconut, Potato Leek, White Bean with Tomato, Roasted Tomato Basil, Green Pea with Dill, Green Chili Corn Chowder and Butternut Squash with Sage.
Mia’s Kitchen added several varieties of gluten-free sauces. Its Bistro Marinara promises to be “an ideal base for a sausage ragu,” while the Garlic & Onion and Mushroom varieties boast chunky vegetables big enough to spear with a fork. Another sauce with an interesting allergen-free positioning came courtesy of Victoria Fine Foods, under its Victoria Vegan brand. The gluten- and dairy-free vegan Alfredo sauce does contain tree nuts, but the label appears otherwise free of allergens.
Boasting “gluten-free worth begging for,” the developers at Second Helping have crafted a number of dishes free of gluten, dairy/casein, soy and nuts. Mama’s Meatballs, according to the company, are authentic Italian-style beef meatballs, while Corn Puppies are similar to corn dogs, just in a gluten-free batter and with a “healthy twist.”
For the breakfast aisles, Path of Life has launched a pair of Breakfast Bowls: Apple Cranberry Quinoa with Greek Yogurt and Banana Berry Quinoa with Greek Yogurt. The company also says at least four other flavors are expected to join the line soon: Apple Cinnamon Quinoa, Apple Cinnamon Quinoa and Steel-cut Oatmeal, Apple Cranberry Quinoa and Steel-cut Oatmeal, and Banana Berry Quinoa and Steel-cut Oatmeal -- all with Greek yogurt.
Path of Life also features several side dishes in steam-able bags: Lemon, Spinach and Artichoke Quinoa; Mediterranean Quinoa with Feta Cheese; Southwest Quinoa with Lime, Cilantro and Mango; and Quinoa with Brown Rice. A pair of launches from Glutenfreeda adds more gluten-free breakfast options -- Strawberries and Brown Sugar with Flax, and Cranberry Cinnamon with Flax. The company assures the line of instant oatmeal with made from certified-gluten-free oats.
Glutino has joined the gluten-free breakfast brigade with gluten-free toaster pastries in two varieties: Strawberry and Apple Cinnamon. They do contain eggs and corn starch but are the only gluten-free toaster pastry on the market at present. They also promise to be a good source of fiber.
Snack bars have long proven one of the more robust arenas for gluten-free innovation, and that dedication shows little sign of slowing. Now, Trail Bars offers a range of bars: Cranberry, Peanut and Almond; Coconut and Almond; Peanut and Almond; and Raspberry, Peanut and Almond -- all free of dairy and gluten. Simple Squares took the notion of a clean label a step further by promising only five simple ingredients in its organic snack bars. Varieties include Cinna-Clove, Coconut, Coffee, Ginger, Rosemary and Sage, all promising to be free of wheat, gluten, dairy, corn and soy.
For a sweeter snack, Sun Cups bear a strong resemblance to the candy bars that blend peanut butter and chocolate. However, Sun Cups promise no nuts or gluten and, instead, feature sunflower butter. Options in the range include Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Mint and Milk Chocolate Caramel -- all with no gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, corn or soy.
Enjoy Life Natural Brands added soft baked bars in an assortment of flavors: Cherry Cobbler, Chocolate Sunbutter, Cinnamon Bun and S’mores. As with all Enjoy Life products, they promise to be free of wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish and shellfish. The company notes the line was in development for more than two years, with new product development meetings about the bars commencing in December 2010 and taste trials in May 2011.
While the aforementioned products will be found on store shelves, concerns about food allergies in schools, colleges and universities prompted a recent federal civil rights settlement. Lesley University, as a result of the settlement, must “continually provide” students with gluten-free dining options and pay $50,000 in damages, to assure it is in compliance with a federal law protecting consumers with disabilities. More and more universities are expected to scramble to find safe food alternatives for students with severe food allergies, including celiac disease, as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Indeed, gluten-free in foodservice environs appear to be the next major battleground for manufacturers, and the number of gluten-free menu options continues to rise. Domino’s Pizza added a gluten-free pizza crust last year, and Noodles & Co. has added a gluten-free noodle to its menu: Its Garden Pesto Sauté features red bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, pecans, feta and spinach atop a gluten-free fusilli noodle. In fact, as Noodles & Co. culinary director Tessa Stamper, RD, notes, “Customization is the cornerstone of our menu, so we encourage guests to add asparagus and substitute our new gluten-free noodle to any dish.”
Consumers looking for a gluten-free hamburger will find an option at Fuddruckers, which is in the process of introducing a gluten-free bun option. The effort is part of a partnership with Local Oven, a Dallas-based manufacturer of gluten-free hamburger buns, hot dog buns, biscotti, baguettes, pockets and bread crumbs.
Indeed, with the sheer number of options increasing at such a pace, Packaged Facts’ predictions of a moderation in the growth of gluten-free sales would seem a bit pessimistic. Still, even accounting for that moderation, the researcher projects U.S. sales of gluten-free foods and beverages should exceed $6.6 billion by 2017.