Since the gluten-free market's inception, retailers have steadily embraced the trend by stocking more gluten-free items, featuring them in store, and launching their own private label brands. In the report Gluten-Free Foods in the U.S., 5th Edition, market research publisher Packaged Facts' found that more than half of consumers have noticed a significant increase in the range of gluten-free products available at retail outlets in recent years. Almost a quarter of consumers make a point of shopping at stores with hefty selections of gluten-free products.

Nevertheless, retail isn't the only place where gluten-free products are thriving. There is a noticeable parallel between a tendency to purchase gluten-free products when grocery shopping and the tendency to seek out these products when dining out. Approximately 15% of U.S. consumers who purchased gluten-free foods in the past three months have also chosen a gluten-free menu item at a quick-service, fast-food, or takeout restaurant in the past six months, according to Packaged Facts' proprietary consumer online survey. Roughly 20% have ordered a gluten-free option while dining at a sit-down restaurant.

Consumers most likely to choose gluten-free menu items in either type of establishment are between the ages of 18 and 34 and have children in the home. At fast-food restaurants, race (Asian, Black) and region of residence (West, Midwest) are also predictive factors. Northeasterners are exceptionally inclined to order a gluten-free item from the menu at a sit-down restaurant.

Some 15% of restaurants serve gluten-free fare, a penetration rate that jumped seven-fold between 2010 and 2014. Gluten-free ranks second of the healthy menu terms analyzed by Packaged Facts, well ahead of other, more "traditional" "free-from" attributes (fat, sugar, calories, carbs, cholesterol).

The gluten-free trend continues to gain traction on full-service restaurant menus, with many casual dining players are implementing dedicated gluten-free menus, while family/midscale operators are opting to integrate a few gluten-free items into their core menus. This suggests that it's essential for operators to jump on the gluten free bandwagon to be perceived as fresh and current, notes David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts.

Learn more about the study.