It seems these days, grocery shelves are exploding with gluten-free choices, due in large part to greater awareness of a gluten-free diet as a result of increasing diagnoses of celiac disease and other gluten sensitivities, and the diet’s perceived health benefits. So it’s no surprise that recent Mintel research found the gluten-free food market in the United States estimated to reach sales of $8.8 billion in 2014, representing an increase of 63% from 2012-14.
“Overall, the gluten-free food market continues to thrive off those who must maintain a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, as well as those who perceive gluten-free foods to be healthier or more natural,” said Amanda Topper, food analyst at Mintel.
“The category will continue to grow in the near term, especially as the U.S. FDA regulations make it easier for consumers to purchase gluten-free products and trust the manufacturers who make them. Despite strong growth over the last few years, there is still innovation opportunity, especially in food segments that typically contain gluten.”
All gluten-free food segments increased in the past year, though the snacks segment increased the most. Gluten-free snacks increased 163% from 2012-14, reaching sales of $2.8 billion. Interesting to note that Mintel reports sales increases were mainly due to a 456% spike in potato chip sales, not really considered a nutritious snack. Meanwhile, the meats/meat alternatives segment is the second-largest gluten-free food segment in terms of sales, reaching $1.6 billion in 2014, a 14% increase from 2012-14.
What’s more, the bread products and cereals segment saw gains of 43% during that same time period, and is set to reach $1.3 billion this year. Bread and cereal are ripe for gluten-free growth with only 1% of the overall segment termed gluten-free.
“Gluten-free products appeal to a wide audience; 41% of US adults agree they are beneficial for everyone, not only those with a gluten allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity. In response, food manufacturers offering either gluten-free alternatives or existing products with a gluten-free label have increased dramatically over the last several years,” Ms Topper added.
But it seems not everyone is convinced of gluten free’s health attributes. While 33% of survey respondents in 2013 agreed that “gluten-free diets are a fad,” the number increased to 44% of Americans in 2014. However, that hasn’t slowed gluten free’s popularity—22% of Americans currently follow a gluten-free diet, compared to 15% in 2013.
In the United States Gluten-Free Labeling regulations went into effect on August 5th, 2014, requiring all gluten-free products to test below 20 parts per million (ppm). According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services U.S. Food and Drug Administration“Gluten-Free” is defined as a food that inherently does not contain gluten or does not contain an ingredient that is:
1. A gluten-containing grain (e.g., spelt wheat);
2. Derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or
3. Derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch).
It is not a mandatory process for food manufacturers, nor does it require them to seek a certification to label their products as such. The main organizations in the U.S. currently certifying products as gluten-free are the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) and the Celiac Sprue Association. GIG and the NFCA require testing less than 10 ppm and the Celiac Sprue Association requires testing under 5 ppm and no use of oats in certified products.
Manufacturers may also choose where to place a gluten-free claim on their food labels, provided that the claim does not interfere with FDA mandatory labeling information and meets all other applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.