Special Report: Gluten-free enters the mainstream

by Donna Berry
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Gluten-free
Once a key point of differentiation, gluten-free now is viewed as a clean label benefit.
 

LAS VEGAS — Many prototypes sampled at IFT17, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition, held in Las Vegas June 25-28, shared a common quality of clean and simple formulations. This dominant pattern was unlike recent past years where the emphasis was on managing specific nutrients or eliminating individual additives. Managing and eliminating were still part of the equation, but the efforts were now part of a larger agenda of clean label formulating.

This agenda was apparent with gluten-free, which had been a dominant theme in previous years, when exhibiting suppliers used I.F.T. to showcase their new gluten-free ingredients. This year gluten-free was not the focus, rather it became an option in a supplier’s clean label tool box.

Kara Nielsen, trendologist
Kara Nielsen, sales and engagement manager U.S.A., Innova Market Insights

“Our data from both global product launches and consumer surveys show that gluten-free is not going away, but rather found a place in the mainstream,” said Kara Nielsen, sales and engagement manager U.S.A., Innova Market Insights, Arnhem, The Netherlands.

David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md., said, “Where once upon a time a package might have had a singular fat-free or no-sugar-added label, it is now common to see packages that carry a host of tags such as certified organic, non-G.M.O., gluten-free, no antibiotics ever, no artificial preservatives, cage-free and more.”

Gluten-free
Avoiding gluten has become a lifestyle choice for some consumers.
 

 Gluten-free has become part of that mix instead of being a focal point. In some instances, for example with those consumers who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, it’s the deal breaker in terms of purchase. For some label readers, it’s an added perk. For others, it’s irrelevant.

But recognizing that gluten-free is a selling point to some consumers, food and beverage manufacturers are making the effort to formulate gluten-free. This is particularly true with grain-based foods historically made with wheat flour, the leading source of gluten.

“The percentage of gluten-free claims in global bakery products grew during the past three years,” Ms. Nielsen said. “In fact, gluten-free claims appeared on nearly 10% of all new launches in 2016.”
 
Gluten-free pulses
Pulse-based ingredients are valuable in improving the nutrient quality of gluten-free products.
 

Mr. Sprinkle added, “Much like veganism and flexitarianism or going low-carb or dairy-free, avoiding gluten has become a true lifestyle choice for many Americans. These consumers may not have a specific health-related motive necessitating the switch to gluten-free. Yet, for gluten-free advocates, there’s often a satisfaction from furthering one’s overall health and nutrition goals. Wellness, as they say, begins in the mind.”

These dedicated gluten-free dieters have helped the gluten-free foods market demonstrate an annual growth rate of 36% over the five-year period ended in 2015, when the market reached $1.6 billion, according to the specific categories — namely grain-based foods or foods that typically would contain gluten — analyzed by Packaged Facts in the “Gluten-free foods in the U.S. 6th edition” report. The research firm forecasts the market will reach $2 billion in sales in 2020.

“Gluten-free foods are gaining popularity partly because manufacturers and marketers are aligning new product developments with other emerging trends in the food and beverage industry,” Mr. Sprinkle said. “These trends include clean labels, marketer transparency and the use of plant proteins and ancient grains.”
Modern Table meals, gluten-free
Modern Table Meals recently reformulated its gluten-free pastas and meal kits to provide improved nutrition.
 

Makers of gluten-free pulse-based pastas are standouts in the promise of fewer and simpler ingredients. This attribute is promoted on product packages and on brand web sites. For example, earlier this year, Modern Table Meals, Blackfoot, Idaho, reformulated its gluten-free pastas and meal kits to provide improved nutrition.

“We’re always striving to improve our products and the best way to do that is by listening to our customers,” said Jennifer Eiseman, senior brand manager. “Texture, nutrition and portion size were all at the top of the list so we challenged ourselves to innovate and completely reformulated our product line.”

Modern Table Meals newly reformulated pastas — elbows, penne and rotini — all promote 20 grams of complete protein. Each variety of noodles features improved pasta texture achieved through a blend of lentils, rice and peas containing all nine essential amino acids for energy, good digestion and improved muscle health.
Ancient Harvest organic quinoa heat-and-eat, gluten-free
Ancient Harvest's heat-and-eat Organic Quinoa is made with coconut oil and is free from gluten, G.M.O.s, rice and fillers.
 

Boulder, Colo.-based Ancient Harvest markets a range of high-protein, gluten-free pastas and meals made with pulses and ancient grains. The company recently debuted heat-and-eat Organic Quinoa, providing a high-protein, clean label meal or side dish that goes from pouch to microwave to table in 90 seconds. The product is made with coconut oil, the most recent superstar of the oil world, and is free from gluten, G.M.O.s, rice and fillers.

“Pulse-based ingredients are particularly valuable in improving the nutrient quality of gluten-free products, as they are richer in fiber, protein and micronutrients than traditional gluten-free wheat replacers such as rice and tapioca flour,” Mr. Sprinkle said. “There is a growing market for these ingredients in gluten-free extruded snacks and pasta.”

RW Garcia Pulse Chips, gluten-free
RW Garcia offers Pulse Chips, a healthy snack that is a source of protein, high in fiber and low in fat.
 

With some grain-based foods, pulses are the base ingredient and the reason for the food. For example, RW Garcia, San Jose, Calif., offers Pulse Chips, which are a healthy snack that is a source of protein, high in fiber and low in fat. There are three varieties. Black Bean and Ancient Grains is made with eight ingredients and a base that is 26% black beans. The chips have an earthy flavor punctuated by red quinoa seeds and chia seeds. Chickpea and Ancient Grains have a subtle kick from red bell pepper flakes and a mellow base that is made of 26% chickpeas. Lentil & Ancient Grains is 26% green lentils. These chips also contain protein- and mineral-rich amaranth, which gives a nutty flavor.

“The gluten-free trend is evolving in bakery products to feature more high-fiber and high-protein ancient grains and seeds, including buckwheat, teff and chia seeds, as well as gluten-free oats,” Ms. Nielsen said. “In fact, our research shows that bread and bread products launched with teff have steadily increased over the past few years, with four times as many products launched between 2014-2017 compared to the preceding three-year period.”
 

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