The gluten-free market continues to grow. Euromonitor reports that global sales hit $3.5 billion in 2016, up 12.6 percent compared to the previous year—and global gluten-free sales are projected to reach $4.7 billion by 2020. In this still-expanding market for gluten-free, snack producers and bakeries continue to develop strategies for growth and product improvement.

There’s also a focus on healthier, better-for-you, gluten-free snacks. “According to Mintel, new gluten-free snack introductions grew by 11.3 percent from 2012 to 2016,” says Ricardo Rodriguez, marketing manager, confectionary and bakery, Ingredion Incorporated, Westchester, IL. “And if you look at some of the top claims within gluten-free, new product launches from 2012 to 2016 with high or added protein grew by 53 percent.”

Mintel has also found that the number of allergen-free new products launched globally grew from around 15,000 items in 2012 to 35,000 items in 2017, notes Jon Peters, president, BENEO Inc., Parsippany, NJ. And this growth is predicted to continue.


Ingredient insights

“Anything that is in the gluten world is being replaced in the gluten-free world—breads, cookies, brownies, rolls,” says John McIsaac, vice president, strategic business development, Reiser, Canton, MA.

Interest in gluten-free bars remains strong. “There are a number of ingredients that are well-suited for these types of applications,” explains Harold Ward, director of technical service and product applications, Bay State Milling, Quincy, MA. “Oats, millet, chia and amaranth are just a few that come to mind.” He also recommends teff and buckwheat.

Ancient and specialty grains—including purple corn—as well as ingredients like flaxseed and pulses, continue to trend forward, notes Tara Froemming, marketing and human resources coordinator, Healthy Food Ingredients, Fargo, ND. “We offer these ingredients in whole-grain form, as well as further-processed to a flour, flake or grit, which incorporates well into a variety of snack and baking applications.”

Ardent Mills, Denver, is excited about the potential of ancient grains in newer formats, such as crisps, flakes and IQF. “These formats bring more versatility to gluten-free grains and allow them to be formulated into a variety of foods, from baked goods and bars to snacks like crunchy, salty, multigrain chips,” says Don Trouba, senior director go-to market for specialty products. “IQF grains are particularly suited to frozen and quick-cooking applications.”

Sweet potatoes are another option. “Sweet potatoes are delicious and nutritious vegetables that have long been sought out by consumers avoiding gluten—a growing segment of the food industry,” notes Paul Verderber, vice president of sales, Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients, Nashville, NC. The available range includes sweet potato juice concentrates, syrups and flours.

Blue Diamond Almonds Global Ingredients Division, Sacramento, CA, offers a naturally gluten-free almond flour option. “Not only is Blue Diamond Almond Flour naturally gluten-free, it provides nutrients that are often lacking in baked goods, such as calcium, fiber, iron and protein,” remarks Jeff Smith, director of marketing. “It’s perfect for a wide array of applications, including cakes, breads and muffins, as well as cookies, bars and crackers.”

The Almond Board of California, Modesto, also recommends almond butter, which is proving popular in better-for-you gluten-free products, notes Molly Spence, director of North America. “It fits easily into the clean-label trend, and its consistency works well as a binder for other ingredients or as a filling in snack bars, biscuits and cookies.”

American Key Food Products (AKFP), Closter, NJ, introduced its proprietary Premium Cassava Flour to the gluten-free baking world in 2010, states Mel Festejo, COO. He notes that the flour is processed and designed to have properties unlike all other cassava flours. “It’s also a ‘true flour,’ unlike the widely known ‘tapioca flour,’ which is actually the name most gluten-free bakers and ingredient vendors associate with native tapioca starch, a derivative from the tapioca root.”

AKFP also offers specialty superfine rice flour, in both white and brown options. It’s produced by Kumamoto Flour Milling Company using a proprietary milling process that yields flour with an average particle size of 70 microns and a narrow particle size distribution. The flour yields better texture, increased volume and mouthfeel, without the grittiness that is associated with most regular white flours, comments Festejo.

Mark Rainey, vice president, global food marketing, ADM, Chicago, notes sorghum flour has seen continued growth. “Its properties—not just gluten-free, but non-GMO, high in fiber and easy to digest—make it perfect for bakery applications like breads, crackers and snacks.” Its Harvest Pearl sorghum flour is milled in a facility dedicated to sorghum, to ensure it remains gluten-free.


Rediscovering functionality

Due to the removal of gluten, some gluten-free products suffer lost functionality.

“We have a tool kit of mechanical options to address the lost functionality,” says McIsaac. “While ingredients are key, we have developed multiple tools to address volume, crumb structure, holes and other issues that our gluten-free producers deal with.”

Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) can also expand distribution area while saving on freezing costs and extending shelf life, notes McIsaac. “We are finding a lot of interest in our Reiser form/fill/seal packaging machines and our Ross tray sealing equipment, as both can produce MAP packages.”

Ingredient technology has improved to help address the challenges related to removing gluten, comments Abby Ceule, senior industry director, bakery, Corbion, Lenexa, KS. “Gluten-free breads are getting closer to having the same eating qualities as breads with gluten, and the dough has more tolerance throughout the production process. With today’s technology, it’s a lot easier to make gluten-free cookies and muffins with texture and mouthfeel similar to cookies and muffins that contain gluten. However, yeast-leavened products still prove to be more challenging to be formulated as gluten-free because of the critical gas retention capacity needed, especially during fermentation and baking.”

ADM collaborates with formulators to analyze the impact each ingredient will have on the product overall, and work to create something that delivers consumer-preferred taste, texture and nutrition, notes Rainey. “In baking and snack applications, understanding where and how to leverage heritage grains and variety flours is important, and formulation adjustments vary by product and goals.”

Binding and crumbling can sometimes be a problem with the removal of gluten, comments Verderber, particularly in breads or other baked goods. He notes Carolina Original sweet potato juice concentrate can be used in a binding agent in gluten-free breads and other products.

For cakes and muffins, the key is to find the right ratio of starches, explains Matt Gennrich, food scientist, Cargill, Minneapolis. “We’ve analyzed the gelatinization of typical wheat-containing cakes and learned how to match that in a non-white environment. We’ve found that blends of label-friendly tapioca and native corn starches can help bakers create fine-textured, gluten-free cakes and muffins.”

It’s definitely a challenge to make gluten-free snacks like crackers, tortilla chips, and baked chips without losing functionality, says Rodriguez. He notes PRECISA CRISP snack texturizers help meet this challenge. “The new series allows manufacturers to create snacks with enhanced textures, optimal expansion and reduced breakage—to help enable a healthier snack option and to deliver a texturally satisfying eating experience.”

Peters recommends functional rice derivatives, because they add mouthfeel, longevity and nutritional content to end products. The BENEO Technology Center actively researches recipes for new and improved gluten-free bakery and snack products, recently creating a recipe for gluten-free pizza dough containing rice flour and rice starch, with fewer flour variants and additives compared to typical pizza dough.


Discovering opportunities

Ancient grains continue to resonate with shoppers. “Quinoa and chia are at the center of this popularity,” remarks David Sheluga, director consumer insights, Ardent Mills. “Retail products making clear gluten-free claims tend to use less-expensive ingredients. However, we predict that will change as more consumers continue to demand the natural nutritional benefits that these grains can bring to gluten-free products.”

Many ancient grains, such as amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet and teff, are naturally gluten-free, making them ideal for today’s health-conscious consumers, notes Ceule. “The key consumer trends that are likely to continue in the baked goods market are products that are high in protein or free from unwanted ingredients.”

Ethnic cuisines can also provide inspiration. AKFP’s Premium Cassava Mix can replicate the tasteful and popular Brazilian snack called pão de queijo, a snackable cheese bread, notes Festejo. “This baked snack is one of the newly popular gluten-free products that American consumers can now enjoy locally.”

Rainey notes interest in bean flour, which is high in protein and fiber and provides starch functionality. “What’s really exciting for us is that these new kinds of products are providing the clean label, free-from attributes that health-conscious consumers are looking for, and they’re doing it without sacrificing taste, functionality or nutrition.”

The entire category is growing with continued pressure from consumers to expand the variety of food products that carry the gluten-free label, notes Peters. He notes strong growth in baking mixes, followed by sweet baked goods like cookies, as well as muffins, waffles and cakes.


Going ‘free-from’

“Free-from” is here to stay, says Trouba, noting that according to Mintel, three of the five top claims paired with ancient-grain product are related to free-from.

The reasons that Americans purchase allergen-free products vary, notes Ceule. “Many Americans purchase, eat and cook ‘free-from’ foods to avoid certain ingredients, lose weight and/or improve their general health.”

Developing allergen-free or free-from products poses unique challenges. “These types of claims require a robust supply chain to ensure that cross-contamination is avoided,” explains Trouba. “In addition, depending on the claim, product testing may be required to ensure that they are truly free from what they claim to be, which can increase cost.”

Free-from challenges snack producers and bakeries to do more with less, notes Ward. “Having a thorough understanding of the functions and characteristics of your ingredients will go far in helping to overcome this challenge.”

Ingredion has a toolbox of solutions that can help solve these types of challenges, says Rodriguez. “When you take out allergens like gluten, soy, eggs or dairy, you change the texture, shelf life, eating quality and ease of processing of these products, and you will need to make sure you address all of those challenges.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 print edition of Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery.