KANSAS CITY — This past week Packaged Facts released a report that estimates dollar sales of gluten-free foods were $973 million in 2014. Further, the market research company predicts sales of such products, at both retail and food service, will reach $2 billion by 2019. For anyone who has witnessed the emergence of the gluten-free trend, such sales figures are staggering.
Many people will point to the average consumer’s heightened perception of health and wellness as a key driver in demand for gluten-free foods. But one must remember that early iterations of many gluten-free product applications were terrible. While the perceived health benefits may drive consumer interest it is the improved quality of the products from a sensory and flavor standpoint that has kept those consumers who may tolerate gluten in their diet coming back to make repeat purchases.
This point is often lost when people discuss the emergence and sustainability of the demand for gluten-free foodstuffs beyond those consumers who are unfortunate to suffer from Celiac disease. The market may be sustainable as long as ingredient suppliers continue to develop applications that allow those products without gluten to mimic those that do.
Packaged Facts supports this notion when the researcher points out that retailers are creating more space on store shelves in order to capture a greater share of demand. Efforts by such companies as Boulder Brands and Yum! Brands to deliver more gluten-free products to food service point to future growth in that category.
In 2009, the Hartman Group, a company that tracks consumer trends, identified the increased demand for gluten-free products among mainstream consumers as a fad in the long term. At the time, their prediction made sense. From a food and beverage industry perspective, gluten-free was a niche with a small base of consumers who suffered from Celiac disease and it was a topic of conversation within the population at large.
But it was also in 2009 that ingredient suppliers began bringing many of their innovations and efforts to the fore. This publication’s coverage of the Institute of Food Technology’s Annual Meeting and Food Expo that year, for example, highlighted the gluten-free innovations exhibited by such companies as National Starch Food Innovation (now Ingredion), Cargill and ConAgra Mills.
It is clear that much of the growth in the market for gluten-free foods is due to innovation as much as perception. The barriers to greater success in the category were related to the core issues of taste and texture. Ingredient development efforts have overcome many of those barriers and the market for gluten-free foods may continue to grow as a result, even beyond the expectations of many early critics.