Interest in “free-from” foods continues to rise globally, led by the growing availability of gluten-free lines. In a review of 2014 product launches, new items positioned on a gluten-free platform accounted for 9% of total global food and drink introductions recorded by Innova Market Insights. Interestingly enough, the US saw a double-digit increase, a 17% rise, in new gluten-free introductions last year.

These increases are partly due to improved labeling regulations, but also due to rising awareness of dietary gluten intolerance and development of more mainstream and better tasting gluten-free products across food and drink sectors.

Perhaps not surprisingly, key areas for activity have involved bakery and cereal products as well as snack foods. This largely is because of rising demand for alternatives to the relatively high number of gluten-containing lines in these sectors and/or because of the availability of alternative gluten-free ingredients.

The cereal products market—encompassing breakfast cereals and cereal bars—is relatively well established to cater to the gluten-free trend. There are numerous non-gluten cereal options available, perhaps most notably those involving oats. These already were in high demand for their health benefits in terms of fiber content, heart health and slow energy release. As a result, it is perhaps not surprising that the share of gluten-free launches in the US cereals market (40%) is much higher than the average of the food and drinks market as a whole. Moreover, US launches also paced higher than the global new gluten-free cereal average of just under 20%.

The US cereals market is divided into breakfast cereals and cereal bars, with cereal bars accounting for nearly three-quarters of gluten-free launches, well ahead of their 57% share of cereals launches as a whole. Gluten-free products accounted for just under a quarter of US breakfast cereals launches and more than half of cereal bar introductions in 2014.

In the large and highly mature US breakfast cereals market, the move of gluten-free into the mainstream is illustrated by the appearance of gluten-free varieties from major US cereal brands. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Gluten Free was one of the first in 2011, but it has now been joined by a Special K Gluten Free option, introduced toward the end of 2014. The latter product includes rice, sorghum and corn and comes in a “Touch of Brown Sugar” flavor. Elsewhere, General Mills’ Chex cereals range now has seven out of eight varieties in a gluten-free range. The popular Chex brand also offers gluten-free oatmeal options.

Another interesting trend involves the rise use of ancient grains as gluten-free ingredient options—building on their existing healthy, nutritious, whole food image. Launches during the past few months include one from Nature’s Path, which offers Qi’a organic, vegan and GMO- and gluten-free hot cereals made with rolled oat cereals, chia, hemp and buckwheat. The Nature’s Path Superseeds & Grains line also features quinoa. Nature’s Path also launched gluten-free Sunrise organic granola cereals during 2014, made with a blend of corn, quinoa, flax, buckwheat and amaranth. They were introduced in Crunchy Cinnamon and Crunchy Honey varieties.

Gluten- and grain-free cereals also have seen some interesting developments with fruit and vegetable ingredients. General Mills launched a Larabar Renola line based solely on nuts, fruits, seeds and spices. These non-GMO granolas eliminate grain, gluten, soy and dairy. Varieties include Cocoa Coconut, Cinnamon Nut and Berry lines.

Interestingly, despite being one of the product categories most strongly associated with wheat (and thus gluten), the US bakery products sector had a lower than average share of 2014 gluten-free launches recorded, at just under 16%. No doubt, this partly reflects the diversity of the sector and the high levels of new product activity overall. The actual number of gluten-free bakery launches has nonetheless risen consistently in recent years. During last year, biscuits accounted for the largest number of US gluten-free bakery launches, with more 35%, equivalent to 16% of total biscuit introductions; compared with 12.5% gluten-free for cakes and just 6% for bread.

Savory biscuits, such as crackers, have seen particularly high levels of interest in gluten-free options, alongside rising interest in the category as a whole. Activity over the past year or so has included the extension of Blue Diamond’s Honey Nut Thins range of nut-based crackers to include two sweet and salty varieties – Honey Cinnamon and Honey Mustard, both of which are wheat- and gluten-free. More recently, RW Garcia introduced gluten-free crackers based on non-GMO corn and vegetables. The three seeds in 3 Seed Sweet Potato Crackers, 3 Seed Kale Crackers and 3 Seed Harvest Crackers are flaxseed, sesame seed and chia seed.

The move of gluten-free bakery products out of the specialist dietetic market and into the mainstream in recent years has been clearly evident and supported by ongoing quality improvements. The industry is also seeing ongoing consolidation, led by companies such as Boulder Brands which has built up a portfolio of healthy, natural brands including a number of gluten-free specialists, starting with the acquisition of Glutino in 2011, followed by Udi’s in 2012.

Both companies continued to launch gluten-free bakery lines in 2014, including a new line of hearty breads from Glutino and dinner rolls from Udi’s. Udi’s also has been successful with its range of sandwich breads, with its ancient grain products featuring Millet-Chia and Omega Flax & Fibre reported to be particularly popular with consumers. More recent additions have included tortillas. Boulder Brands also opened the largest gluten-free-dedicated manufacturing facility in the US in 2013, reflecting its ongoing commitment to the gluten-free market.

Another leading US natural foods specialist, Hain Celestial, also extended its portfolio in 2014 with the purchase of Rudi’s Organic Bakery, an organic and gluten-free specialist, whose offerings include natural breads, buns, pizza crusts and tortillas certified by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) under the Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery brand.

More recently, in early 2015, Mondelez also entered the free-from market in the US with the acquisition of Enjoy Life Foods, a company focusing on free-from snacks with a range of more than 40 allergy-friendly and gluten-free snacks.

The snacks market also is seeing a relatively high proportion of launches with gluten-free claims, averaging nearly 12% globally, but rising to over 37% in the US. Savory snacks, snack nuts and seeds and popcorn account for three-quarters of overall snacks launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2014, but this rises to over 80% of gluten-free snacks launches. While savory or salty snacks account for a leading 41% of overall snacks launches recorded, they make up nearly 51% of gluten-free introductions, and penetration of gluten-free launches was more than 46%. This level was higher than for snack nuts and seeds at 25%, but lower than that for popcorn at 54%.

In terms of product and market development, the snacks market benefits particularly from the fact that many basic snacks ingredients, such as potatoes, corn, soy and nuts, are naturally gluten-free, so it is a claim that is relatively easy to achieve in many instances. Ingredients used to replace wheat or other cereals and offer a gluten-free formulation in the US have included lentils, black beans, navy beans, cassava, brown rice, nuts, sweet potatoes and a wide variety of other vegetables.

Recent launch activity has included snacks such as Snapea Crisps from Calbee North America, made with 70% green peas, baked rather than fried and marketed as suitable for those on gluten-free diets. Last year also saw Blue Monkey Drinks, a popular coconut drink, extend its brand with three varieties of Coconut Chips, marketed as vegan, GMO-free and preservative-free, as well as gluten-free.

Meanwhile, in early 2015, the GFB Gluten Free Bar brand was extended with Gluten Free Bites, bite-sized versions of its nut, protein and dried fruit bars in a range of indulgent flavors including Blueberry Almond Crunch, Dark Chocolate coconut and Coconut Cashew Crunch. Other activity in gluten-free sweet snacks included Goodie Girl Tribeca’s range of all-natural gluten-free cookies, launched in mid-2014, CocoaPlanet’s low-calorie, dark chocolate range and ThinkThin’s Lean Protein and Fiber bars. All of these three have different positionings and present gluten-free as just one of a number of health benefits.

The mainstream move of gluten-free snacks was given a boost in 2012 when savory snacks market leader Frito-Lay announced that it was launching a multi-year initiative to validate many of its products as gluten-free, with appropriate labeling to follow. It also launched a special gluten-free section in the Recipes area of its website the same year, featuring gluten-free options that could be paired with or made with Frito-Lay’s gluten-free snacks. Today, the line includes an increasing range of gluten-free varieties Lay’s potato chips, Lay’s Stax stacked chips, Ruffles ridged potato chips, Cheetos puffed snacks and Fritos and Tostitos corn chips.

Many other food and drink sectors also are experiencing interest in gluten-free reformulations. Last year in the sausage market, for example, gluten-free was touted in new Johnsonville Fully Cooked Breakfast Sausages. That was followed by Butterball’s Natural Inspirations turkey products, all gluten-free, as well as 98% fat-free and with no artificial ingredients. Around the same time, Kayem Foods added two gluten-free chicken breakfast sausages to its Al Fresco line.

Innova Market Insights has tracked many more interesting gluten-free product launches. The include vegetarian meal entrees and grain-based side dishes, as well as drinks, desserts, pizzas and gravy mixes.

Gluten intolerance is no longer the only reason for buying gluten-free foods. Consumers now consider overall wellbeing, digestive health, weight management and nutritional value all equally important. With more labeling of gluten-free foods and the growing availability of a range of high quality products with a good sensory profile, the sector appears poised to take further advantage.