Long-gone are the days when the phrase “gluten-free” was something an in-store bakery could afford to ignore.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, only 1 percent of the US population has been diagnosed with the disease, though demand for gluten-free items is higher than ever — according to Packaged Facts, between 2009 and 2014, sales of gluten-free products had a 34 percent compound annual growth rate. Throw in the research firm’s projection that sales will exceed $2 billion — with it currently at $973 million — in 2019, and providing gluten-free options within your bakery starts to look like a no-brainer.
“Although nearly half of consumers believe that gluten-free diets are a fad, 25 percent report that they eat gluten-free food, a 67-percent increase from 2013, according to a Mintel report,” says Eric Richard, education coordinator at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association. “Gluten-free is the top nutritional ingredient claim on menus, growing 127 percent from 2012 to 2015. It’s also the top dish claim, increasing 24 percent during the same timeframe.”
And while consumer trust in gluten-free claims decreased to 45 percent in 2015, he says, sales of gluten-free foods increased by 136 percent from 2013 to 2015.
“Today, nearly 30 percent of adults in this country are actively trying to reduce or eliminate gluten from their diets,” Mary Waldner, founder and chairman of Mary’s Gone Crackers, told The Shelby Report in May. Mary’s, which makes organic, gluten-free, and vegan crackers, cookies and pretzels, has expanded considerably in this last year, establishing its headquarters in Reno, NV, which also includes a research center. “This is not a fad,” she says. “It’s a $15 billion movement.”
And if you need more convincing, just look at the restaurant industry. According to DataSsential Menu Trends, the phrase “gluten-free” was actually on more restaurant menus than “organic” in the last year, at 23.6 percent. But what does the future hold for this burgeoning product category?
Where it’s going
While a recent NPD Group survey found that one out of every four consumers think that “gluten-free is good for everyone,” pretty much any health professional will tell you that gluten isn’t bad for anyone who hasn’t been diagnosed with a specific intolerance to it. This doesn’t mean that the trend can’t be capitalized upon however, and by all means, it doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon.
“We are finding strong demand in the marketplace for gluten-free breads and other products,” says Julie Faber, director of marketing and compliance at Pizzey Ingredients, a flaxseed company established in Canada that produces flaxseed-based, gluten-free flour alternatives for wholesale distribution.
“While there is an aspect of this demand that is due to fad diets, which will certainly fade over time, the number of people with a genuine sensitivity or allergy to gluten should continue to support market growth moving forward,” she says.
While some retailers may raise an eyebrow to such a statement, more are literally buying into it, investing heavily in gluten-free items and counting on that future growth, which as of now, is hard to imagine not happening. “According to industry statistics, sales of gluten-free products will exceed $15 billion by (the end of) 2016, twice the amount of five years earlier,” says Brett Fuss, brand director at Pereg Gourmet, which produces six different kinds of gluten-free flours. “You have to experiment a little with the different flours, but once you get the hang of what works, it’s a piece of cake.”
Pereg’s flours have grown in number as consumer curiosity has risen, and offer both the inquisitive and the dedicated a number of different flavors and textures to work with at home. And while Pereg doesn’t sell wholesale to in-store bakeries, its continued success illustrates the current and future demand expected of gluten-free products.
And if you’re still wary about banking on gluten-free staying mainstream, you can always back those products up with other, possibly more permanent buzzwords — Pereg’s flours also boast of being certified Kosher, all-natural, lactose-free and non-GMO. And the first three, you can bet, will still be here long after any others may have faded out of fashion. “I think the demand is great and growing,” Fuss says of both the overall gluten-free trend and Pereg’s products. “We can barely keep the gluten-free flours in stock, as they keep selling out.”