Gluten-Free: Fleeting Trend or Long-term Concern for the Food & Beverage Industry

You have a delicious product that consumers have loved for years. However there is one problem, it’s not gluten-free.


Why should I care?

You should care because consumers care. According to a 2014 NY Times article, the portion of households reporting purchases of gluten-free food products to Nielsen rose from 5 percent (2010) to 11 percent (2013). The same article cites Harry Balzer, VP at the market research company NPD Group, “About 30 percent of the public says it would like to cut back on the amount of gluten it’s eating, and if you find 30 percent of the public doing anything, you’ll find a lot of marketers right there, too.”


 What’s the problem with gluten?

Gluten is a substance (a mixture of two proteins) found in cereal grains, especially wheat. Gluten is responsible for the elastic texture of dough.


Doctors recommend a gluten-free diet for people who have been diagnosed with celiac disease. A Mayo Clinic survey from 2012 found that about 1.8 million Americans have celiac disease, but an additional 18 million people are believed to have gluten sensitivity.


Individuals with celiac disease are not driving the gluten-free market alone. From yogurt to the organic trend, there is a growing push toward low-processed foods. However, some maintain that going gluten-free isn’t the best option.


Shelley Case, R.D., author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide, says in this article thatgoing gluten-free can potentially increase your risk of developing a micronutrient deficiency, especially if you rely on hyper-processed and fat/sugar-packed, packaged foods rather than the nutritionally stable and vitamin-packed fresh fruits, vegetables, and gluten-free grains (like quinoa) you should be eating anyway.”


What are my options?

1. Don’t change

Not every brand in going gluten-free just like not every person suffers from gluten sensitivity. It’s up to each company to look at their products, assess costs v. benefits, and make the decision. While this isn’t the “sexy” or progressive choice, it could be the best option for you.


2. Have gluten-free choices

This seems like the best option for maintaining your core audience while still reaching those with gluten sensitivity. Even foods that are naturally gluten-free such as popcorn are being clearly labeled as such to signal that the product is safe for those with gluten-sensitivities.


Start small then decide whether or not to expand or maintain gluten-free choices. Tiffany Lach opened Sola Café in 2008. About 5% of her baked goods were gluten-free, now more than a quarter of her items are gluten-free.


3. Go entirely gluten-free

This may seem like an extreme change, but it could be worth it. Virginia Morris, VP for consumer strategy and insights at Daymon Worldwide says in this article that she doesn’t think the gluten-free craze will end anytime soon. “The reason I do believe this has legs is that it ties into this whole naked and ‘free from’ trend,” she said. “I think we as a country and as a globe will continue to be concerned about what’s going into our food supply.”


In the same article, Hitesh Hajarnavis, chief executive of Popcorn Indiana, says the following:

“The thing here, in my opinion, is that there is a small number of people who have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant, but there is a growing population of people who have somehow heard that gluten-free is healthier or think of it as fashionable, and when they remove gluten from their diet, they’re inadvertently taking out a lot of processed foods and are really feeling the benefits of eating healthier foods.”


If Mr. Hajarnavis is correct, then the companies that make the most effort to be low-processed, gluten-free, and/or “healthiest” could be the most successful long-term.

Leave a Reply