KANSAS CITY — A combination of trends continues to give momentum to consumer interest in gluten-free products. Meeting the needs of consumers who have celiac disease or may be gluten intolerant is a primary driver, but consumer interest in free-from products and the adoption of specific eating patterns are two others.

The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, said consumers adopting different eating styles in pursuit of health and wellness will be a growing trend in 2019. Today, the paleo and ketogenic diets are getting a lot of attention, but consumer interest in gluten-free should not be forgotten.

The International Food Information Council Foundation asked consumers who participated in the group’s 2018 Food and Health Survey if they are following a specific eating pattern. One-third of the 1,009 respondents said they were, and the top three eating patterns listed included intermittent fasting, the paleo diet and gluten-free. All three ranked ahead of eating patterns such as Whole 30, high protein, vegetarian or vegan and ketogenic.

As consumer interest in gluten-free products has grown the category has transitioned from a niche to a mainstream market segment. The resulting growth has meant businesses specializing in the market have become acquisition targets of some of the largest food companies.

In early November, Canyon Bakehouse L.L.C., Johnstown, Colo., reached an agreement to be acquired by Flowers Foods, Inc., Thomasville, Ga., for approximately $205 million. The gluten-free baking company has one manufacturing plant and is expected to generate between $70 million to $80 million in revenues during 2019.

“Canyon Bakehouse is an innovative leader in a growing segment of the bakery category, which closely aligns this acquisition with our strategic goals,” said Allen L. Shiver, president and chief executive officer of Flowers Foods. “They have great products, a talented team of employees, a state-of-the-art gluten-free bakery and a brand with an enthusiastic fan following. We see opportunities to leverage Flowers Foods’ distribution network and retail partnerships to drive growth by bringing Canyon Bakehouse products to more consumers across the country.”

In a Nov. 8 conference call to discuss third-quarter results, Mr. Shiver said the No. 1 reason behind the Canyon acquisition is the gluten-free category continues to grow. But a challenge facing manufacturers is extending the reach of gluten-free baked foods from the freezer case to the bread aisle of supermarkets.

“We are looking at and have implemented technology that extends shelf life somewhat,” Mr. Shiver said. “Also, I think having our independent distributors basically in the stores five to six days a week will also be able to keep it merchandised properly.”

The fresh products will be distributed through Flower’s direct-store delivery (D.S.D.) system, and over time the expectation is it will be network wide.

“It won’t happen at the very beginning of the year,” Mr. Shiver said. “It will be a transition through next year. But our plan is to continue with frozen distribution. So, the big growth that I’m looking for will be off our fresh, off our D.S.D. routes.”

Udi's and Glutino gluten-free productsFollowing its acquisition of Pinnacle Foods, Inc., Parsippany, N.J., Conagra Brands, Inc., Chicago, becomes a leader in the U.S. market for gluten-free products. Gluten-free brands now within the Conagra portfolio include Udi’s and Glutino.

Udi’s sells a wide variety of gluten-free products, including bread, rolls and buns as well as pizzas, breakfast sandwiches, tortillas and others. Glutino’s offers gluten-free snack products as well as baking mixes and bread.

Innovation from Udi’s includes the introduction of a new bread at the beginning of 2018. The new bread was a part of a renovation program initiated by the company to reinvigorate sales. Other products in line for renovation include pizzas and granolas.

Ingredient supplier The Andersons, Inc., Maumee, Ohio, acquired the assets of Naperville, Ill.-based Nu-World Foods from Tella Atlantic Holdings this past October. Nu-World Foods is a supplier of gluten-free food products and ancient grain ingredients.

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

“This acquisition aligns with our strategy for growing our specialty grains business,” said Andy Vollmar, director of food ingredients and specialty grains at The Andersons. “Our Grain Group has been a trusted partner in the food ingredients industry for many years, and we are excited to expand our portfolio to offer more gluten-free and ancient grain options to our food customers.”

Nu-World operates a certified organic, kosher and gluten-free processing facility in Dyersville, Iowa. The facility specializes in puffed and popped ancient grains such as amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum and rice. The plant also manufactures several ancient grain flours, pre-gel powders and seeds and offers contract packaging.

Formulation options abound

Ingredient suppliers continue to innovate and develop new ingredients and systems that may be used in gluten-free formulations. Veripan, Matzingen, Switzerland, introduced its Panafree all-purpose flour mix for the manufacture of gluten-free baked foods. The new ingredient is an all-in-one solution, according to the company.

“Our innovation Panafree is a perfect option for consumers with celiac disease or gluten intolerance,” said Meiert J. Grootes, chief executive officer. “Moreover, also health-conscious consumers will be happy because of better nutritional properties.”

Panafree features a combination of gluten-free ingredients to form an elastic dough, the company said. Because the dough has a gluten-like structure it entraps the carbon dioxide from yeast fermentation in the dough matrix. The company said Panafree is available in North America at commercial scale.

Cassava flourThe Specialty Food Association convened what it calls its “Trendspotter” panel to identify products and ingredients that may be trending in popularity. One ingredient identified is cassava.

The panel said cassava meets numerous consumer criteria, most notably it is grain- and gluten-free, high in carbohydrates and its leaves are reported to be a good source of protein and lysine.

“While many products so far are packaged for retail, expect to see more cassava on food service menus as well in 2019, likely in baked goods or tortillas made with cassava flour,” the Trendspotter panel said.

One ingredient supplier that manufactures cassava flour under the King Lion Premium brand is American Key Food Products. The company said the ingredient delivers baking performance characteristics that closely mimic the structure, texture and taste of numerous wheat-based products.

At the SupplySide West trade show, held in Las Vegas Nov. 8-10, Nutriati, Inc., Henrico, Va., through its sales and market development partner PLT Health Solutions, Morristown, N.J., sampled protein pumpkin oat chocolate cake bars that featured the company’s Artesa chickpea flour. The prototype featured 10 grams of protein per serving and was gluten-free as well as vegan.

Introduced earlier this year, Artesa chickpea flour provides a taste profile similar to premium wheat flour, along with similar mouthfeel and texture characteristics, according to Nutriati. The ingredient system can work as the principal ingredient in gluten-free bread. It has a fine particle size, neutral color and taste, the company said.