Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten – the protein in wheat, barley, rye and spelt – is estimated to affect about one in every 133 Americans, and the only treatment currently available is complete gluten avoidance.
But a market boom in recent years for gluten free foods is thought to have been driven by a number of other factors, including the families of those with celiac disease also eating gluten free foods as they have become more palatable, non-celiac consumers finding abdominal symptoms are eased when they eliminate gluten from their diets, and others who perceive gluten free foods to be generally healthier or less calorific (often erroneously).
Despite this wide base of consumer interest, Sloan thinks the market is about to slow down.
“This gluten free trend does not have long term legs,” she said. “And the reason for this is twofold.”
Citing Hartman Group research, Sloan said that only 22% of consumers buying gluten free products are buying them intentionally because they are gluten free.
“It doesn’t mean it is the reason why they are buying it,” she said.
Secondly, she said that the gluten free market is far larger than warranted by the proportion of Americans who require gluten free foods. Market research organization Packaged Facts has found that the market for gluten free products has grown faster than expected, and valued the market at $2.64bn in 2010 – a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30% from 2006 to 2010.
“It is a very good and very strong market, but right now it’s still out of proportion,” she said. “It may continue to grow for the next two or three years, but in the long term, you really need to think about that.”
Sloan is just the latest food industry trend-watcher to express doubt about the potential longevity of the gluten free market.
Two years ago, trends expert Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, said that the gluten free market was poised to fall like “a house of cards”.
For food manufacturers looking for the next big dietary trend to back, Sloan advises that the rise of plant-based diets may be a safer bet.
“You need to keep an eye on vegetarian and plant-based diets,” she said. “About 25% of households use meat substitutes at least occasionally and it has never been that high before.”