Gluten-free gains momentum
June 7, 2011
by Allison Gibeson
Demand for gluten-free products has certainly caught on and the market for products specifically formulated for consumers following a gluten-free diet is at $337 million, according to ConAgra Mills, Omaha. The market has grown despite the fact celiac disease only occurs in about 1% of the population along with a growing number of individuals being diagnosed with gluten sensitivity, which is separate from celiac disease.
Despite the current popularity of gluten-free products, a large portion of the trend is in many ways similar to the low-carbohydrate fad in the opinion of Melissa Abbott, director of Culinary Insights at The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash. While those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity always will be consumers in the market, she said the group is a low percentage of gluten-free consumers and the rest of the market is based on a fad.
“It’s a group of people looking to avoid another ingredient … and this is another version of taking carbs out of the diet,” Ms. Abbott said.
Joel Warady, chief marketing officer with Enjoy Life Foods, Chicago, a manufacturer of gluten-free baked goods, said part of the growth of the gluten-free market is due to the fact some consumers mistakenly believe they may lose weight by going gluten-free.
“What will happen is you will lose bloating, so you will feel thinner and for many people they will feel less lethargic because the bloating is going away,” Mr. Warady said. “There are people who go on the gluten-free diet because they just feel healthier, some of those people will go away when the next big thing comes, but the lifestyle (for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity) won’t go away.”
General Mills, Inc., Minnea-polis, offers more than 300 gluten-free products, including options from its Larabar, Betty Crocker, Bisquick and Chex brands.
General Mills first introduced a gluten-free version of Chex in July 2008, and the company expanded the effort in 2009 to include gluten-free brownie, cookie and cake mixes from Betty Crocker in traditional grocery stores. In addition, General Mills found that gluten-free pancake mix was the top unmet need among those who wanted specially formulated gluten-free products, and as a result the company introduced a gluten-free reformulation of the Bisquick pancake mix in 2010.
“Since the gluten in wheat flour provides the structure for traditional brownies, cookies and cakes, creating dessert
mixes without gluten is a significant and remarkable technical achievement,” said Dom Alcocer, a marketing manager with General Mills. “To achieve this innovative line of products we experimented with several technical levers, including the formulation of the product and the consumer preparation directions. The research and development team leveraged the company’s expertise in dessert mix ingredients and preparation as well as consumer food testing expertise while conducting more than 75 experiments and creating more than 1,000 samples.”
There is no mistaking that gluten-free products often come with a price premium. Mr. Warady acknowledged this challenge and said the cost of gluten-free products is driven by higher commodity costs, and for his company volumes would have to be unrealistically large to get the commodity costs down. In addition, the high price point is driven by standards a facility has to meet in order to be certified gluten-free.
He said the most challenging aspect of formulating gluten-free is the density and texture of the products due to the
fact gluten-free products tend to be denser, and the challenge is to make products light and airy. He said the best way to overcome this is to blend flours. There is also constant work needed to make sure gluten-free products meet consumer expectations of taste.
“When we are working on flavors, we are always putting our products up against conventional products because we really do think from a taste standpoint, that’s got to be the gold standard,” Mr. Warady said.
According to the Global New Products Database from Mintel International, Chicago, there were 1,936 new gluten-free products introduced in 2010, up from 1,232 in 2009.