Ten years ago, gluten awareness was almost non-existent as it was considered to be mostly a ‘European problem.’ But today it would be impossible not to know what gluten-free or celiac disease meant. And many food companies big or small are investing capitol to jump on this gluten bandwagon. General Mills has recently reformulated their iconic Chex cereal to be gluten-free; an enormous undertaking that is turning out to be very profitable for the manufacturer.
In a recent New York Times article, “Should We All Go Gluten-Free?” Keith O’Brien, a celiac diagnosed freelance writer, reports:
“Food companies are always trying to take advantage of the latest dietary trend or health craze. (Low carb, anyone?) But the story of how we got to a place where celiac disease is suddenly mainstream, prevalence rates are rising, perfectly healthy people are opting to eat gluten-free and General Mills is coveting these customers is an especially unlikely business narrative.”
The article goes on to explain how a 2003 study by Dr. Alessio Fasano, from the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, could have been the catalyst that began our country’s gluten awareness. In this American based study, 1 in every 133 people had celiac disease. If you were related to someone with celiac then the rate was 1 in 22. Fasano estimates that 18 million Americans have some degree of gluten sensitivity…18 million! Now, that’s a market.
O’Brien further explains the market demand by sighting a study by Dr. Joseph A. Murray, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic. He found that young people today are 5 times more likely to have celiac disease. There seems to be no end in sight; we haven't even hit the top of the barrel yet.
Which lead us to the question, has gluten-free foods hit their limit in the market place? Will their higher price tags eventually get consumers turned off the trend, or is it truly a recession proof food?
Here at RL Food Testing Laboratory, we have witnessed this impressive trend over the past few years. As our Senior Chemist, Roger Legg explains, “There’s been a tremendous increase of companies that make gluten-free products requesting nutrition analysis and other services needed to go to retail. And we have seen no signs of this trend losing any momentum.”
O’Brien’s findings seem to support our trend observations, as he shows:
- Niche companies like Amy’s Kitchen, Glutino, Enjoy Life, Bob’s Red Mill and Udi’s Gluten Free Foods are reporting incredible growth.
- Anheuser-Busch introduced Redbridge, a gluten-free beer, in 2006.
- Kellogg rolled out gluten-free Rice Krispies this year.
- Frito-Lay and Post Foods began gluten-free labeling this past year.
- General Mills reformulated their Rice Chex to remove gluten.
- Betty Crocker has brought gluten-free cake mixes to the market.
So, why would all these big manufacturers invest the capital and manpower to bring gluten-free products to market? And with the potential danger involved with stating gluten-free on the food label, why would a company want to take the risk of a possible recall?
The NY Times article explains:
- According to a recent Nielsen report on consumer trends, the volume of gluten-free products sold in the past year is up 37%.
- It’s reported by Spins, a market-research-and-consulting firm for the natural-products industry, that the gluten-free market is a $6.3 billion industry and growing, up 33% since 2009.
And remember the iconic General Mills cereal that recently went gluten-free? Well, retail sales for Chex were up 29% in their Q1 of their 2012 fiscal year – alone.
Not bad for a niche product in a recession economy. As O’Brien says, “It’s the golden age of gluten-free.”