The gluten-free industry is capitalizing on consumer demand for clean labels, marketer transparency and vegan- & vegetarian-friendly products, confirmed Market research company Packaged Facts in its report, Gluten-Free Foods in the U.S. 6th Edition, launched in November last year. The report focuses on traditionally grain-based products in the following categories: Salty Snacks, Crackers, Fresh Bread, Pasta, Cold (ready-to-eat) Cereal, Baking Mixes, Cookies, Flour, and Frozen Bread/Dough.

It’s almost impossible to hear news related to gluten-free foods without also hearing about how most Americans don’t have celiac disease or even a gluten sensitivity and are essentially wasting money on an unnecessary fad. What’s sometimes missed is that a number of Americans simply want to go gluten-free because the effort contributes to their sense of mental and physical wellness, according to Packaged Facts.

“Much like veganism and flexitarianism or going low-carb or dairy-free, avoiding gluten has become a true lifestyle choice for many Americans,” says David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts.

“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 percent over the five-year period ended in 2015, when the market reached US$1.6 billion, according to Packaged Facts based on the specific categories analyzed for the report. The company forecasts the gluten free foods market will reach US$2 billion 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. These trends include clean labels, marketer transparency, and the use of plant proteins and Ancient Grains.

A predominant trend in gluten-free product development reflects the concerns of the clean eating/clean-label movement such as: fewer and simpler ingredients; free-from formulations; minimally processed with organic, sustainable production methods; and transparency in business practices.

Packaged Facts said that makers of gluten-free bean pasta are standouts in the promise of fewer and simpler ingredients, an attribute that is touted on product packages and on brand websites from the likes of Tolerant Foods, Gold Harbor, Simply 7 Snacks and Explore Cuisine.

Another is organic snack maker Quinn Snacks, which has staked out a pioneering position when it comes to transparency about the origins of the ingredients it uses.

Plant protein and Ancient Grains grow gluten-free options

The desire for clean labels, ease of digestion, the need or desire to avoid allergens, compatibility with vegetarian and vegan lifestyles and concerns about sustainability among the general population are putting the spotlight on plant proteins. Legumes and beans, or pulses, are found in a growing array of gluten-free foods, along with ancient and sprouted grains.

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 gluten-free staples rice and tapioca flour. There is a growing market for these ingredients in gluten-free extruded snacks and pasta.

"The appeal of ancient and sprouted grains is much like that of pulses. For food processors, these ingredients provide whole food, plant-based protein sources that enhance appearance, deliver unique tastes and textures, pack a nutritional wallop, and invite variety and innovation. A number of Ancient Grains are gluten-free, as are sprouted ingredients made from gluten-free Ancient Grains, nuts, seeds, and beans," Packaged Facts said.

Gluten-free new industry standard in baked goods

In a November report on the bakery/baked goods market, Euromonitor International said that gluten-free is fast becoming the new industry standard in baked goods, with high fibre one to watch.

"Free-from diets continues to be a fast-growing trend, not only followed by coeliac patients, but also by the general health-conscious public holding the belief that gluten-free products will help them overcome problems related to bloating or indigestion," the researcher said.

"The global market for gluten-free bread was valued at USD1.0 billion in 2015, accounting for 31 percent of all gluten-free food globally, with USD953 million coming from developed countries, making it a mainstream choice for the Western consumer."

Many ancient grains, such as amaranth, quinoa, chia, buckwheat, millet and teff, are naturally gluten free, making them the go-to choice for manufacturers in the bakery space.

The world’s biggest gluten-free brand Udi’s, which has recently been acquired by Pinnacle Foods, has just launched an ancient grains variant, boasting ancient grains such as millet and chia, as well as being high in omega 3- ALA and fibre.

Similarly, Hovis, one of the UK’s leading packaged bread brands, formed a collaboration with The Chia Co to launch its chia loaf in February 2016, stressing its high omega 3, protein and fibre content.

"Numerous product developments that include ancient grains make it clear that a niche market has gone mainstream, making it far more accessible to consumers than it has ever been," Euromonitor said.