Gluten-free foods have rapidly increased in popularity over the past few years – partly as a result of better diagnosis of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by exposure to gluten, the protein in wheat, barley, rye and spelt. However, there has also been a mass movement toward gluten-free products by those who have self-diagnosed wheat or gluten intolerance or who believe gluten-free to be a healthier way of eating. And the gluten-free market has boomed, with an average annual growth rate of 28 percent since 2004, according to market research organization Packaged Facts.
However, Badaracco told FoodNavigator-USA.com that people who have tried adhering to a gluten-free diet for reasons other than celiac disease are drifting back to gluten-containing foods, and that this drift is likely to pick up pace.
“This is a house of cards just waiting to fall,” she said. “It’s a medical diet, right? It’s hard to stick to.”
As well as her trend forecasting business for the food industry, Badaracco is also a qualified dietitian, and she said that those who choose to avoid gluten-containing foods often end up with poorly balanced diets.
“They’re missing fiber, missing B vitamins,” she said. “And these foods are higher in fat typically that other products.”
Lasting legacy for celiacs
However, even if people without celiac disease decide to go back to eating gluten, wider availability of better, tastier gluten-free products could be one of the longer lasting consequences of the gluten-free movement, as food manufacturers have worked hard to formulate better quality products to tap into the trend, with flavor and sensory qualities that appeal to consumers.
Part of that has been about boosting the nutritional profile of gluten-free foods, which traditionally have been based on relatively nutrient-poor ingredients, such as potato and corn starches, with xanthan or guar gum to improve texture. As gluten-free entered the mainstream, companies increased their experimentation with a range of more nutrient-rich grains and flours, such as quinoa, amaranth, pea flour and buckwheat.
Where to from here?
Badaracco, who works directly with food manufacturers to provide them with relevant information on food trends, said that companies are reacting in different ways to the information she is giving them about what she sees as a less-than-rosy future for gluten-free demand.
She said: “I have two clients taking different pathways with the exact same information. One is downsizing – because we still need good products – but another is going in, making money, and then getting out.”
The federal government has estimated that there are about 3m people in the United States who suffer from celiac disease, or about one in every 133 Americans, although only 40,000 to 60,000 have been diagnosed.