According to Mintel data, gluten-free as a claim is now seen on almost 10% of food and drink launches globally, up from 6% back in 2009. “It was the fifth most prominent claim on food and drink globally in 2013 - as a comparison ‘no additives or preservatives’ is the leading claim seen on around 16% of launches,” Mintel’s senior global food and drink analyst, Chris Brockman, told FoodNavigator.
Brockman said: “The most untapped of the cereal-containing product categories is probably beer and pizza/prepared meals but also bakery still offers plenty of opportunity.” Among UK beer drinkers, 34% said they would drink gluten-free beers if they tasted as good as standard versions, while just over 20% said they would not, according to Mintel.
Within the drinks market Brockman also highlighted developments within spirits, yet some disagreement over the possibility of removing all trace of gluten through distillation remains.
Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, gluten-free writer and founder of the FreeFrom Awards, agreed that the segment is moving increasingly beyond staples like bread into new and mainstream categories. Berriedale-Johnson predicted that food-to-go and ready meals would be areas of development in Europe in the future, with consumers coming to expect gluten-free alternatives for things like bread and other baked goods as standard. She said that over the past few years she had seen this broadening of category through product entries for her FreeFrom Awards.
Principal market analyst for Leatherhead, Jonathan Thomas, told FoodNavigator: "The UK market is still dominated by bakery products like bread, cakes, etc, but the real growth of late has come from convenience products, such as ready meals and snacks. The foodservice industry is also considered to have untapped potential in the UK – it could be worth anything up to £100m per annum."
Is gluten-free enough? ‘Natural’, health and value added
Berriedale-Johnson said food firms are beginning to position more and more naturally gluten-free products, as opposed to products containing substitutes, within this free-from framework. “There’s a collection of reasons behind this – partly formulation, wheat substitutes are expensive,” she said. Adding it is still a challenge for manufacturers to make like-for-like products without gluten.
She said that in previous FreeFrom Awards it was necessary to provide judges with a list of e-numbers, sometimes around 200 items long, in order to understand each free-from product. However in the last awards the list was only consulted once or twice, signalling a noticeable shift towards ‘natural’ and additive-free products within the category.
Brockman echoed this sentiment, saying: “Gluten-free is increasingly tied up with the wider health and wellness and natural trends. A lot of 'naturally' positioned brands are also gluten free and also environmentally friendly positioning - i.e. it is often combined with other good for you and the planet type claims to provide even more incentive to buy.”
Nicole Patterson-Lett, principal analyst for Leatherhead Food Research, agreed that there had been a shift within gluten-free “back to natural”. However she warned: “This is put on so many products consumers are getting blasé with it. They are looking at the ingredients themselves.”
She said that consumers are increasingly looking for things like preservative-free that were previously seen as “nice to have” but are now expected as standard. “These things were originally presented as special but are now expected by consumers,” she said, adding that the price of these extras would likely fall with the manufacturers.
Berriedale-Johnson added that there had also been a tendency towards excluding more than just gluten, including things like free-from dairy claims on pack too.