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Health issues back continued gluten-free growth

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 18-Mar-2009

Related topics: Suppliers

Increased diagnosis of celiac disease and a fad for gluten-free diets are driving strong predicted growth to 2012 in the gluten-free foods market, according to a new report from Packaged Facts.

The primary reason for this growth is an increased diagnosis of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder caused by a reaction to gluten protein. While only 40,000 to 60,000 Americans are diagnosed as celiac, the federal government estimates that there could be as many as 3m who are undiagnosed – or just under one percent of the population. At the same time, there has been a surge in the number of consumers choosing a gluten-free diet for perceived health benefits.

The gluten-free market has grown at an average annual rate of 28 percent since 2004, when it was valued at $580m, to reach $1.56bn last year. Packaged Facts estimates that sales will be worth $2.6bn by 2012. But it added: “Market growth will slow substantially due to the recession, slipping to a still sizable 11 percent in 2009 and then bottoming out with nine percent growth in 2010.”

The market researcher expects to see a much wider range of gluten-free products on shelves by 2012, and said that this will be driven by companies reformulating existing products for gluten-free acceptability, as well as by releasing new ones.

‘Explosion of interest’

It said: “Americans have a lot of health problems, limited access to health care, and a culture that drives them to resolve those problems themselves. This has led to an explosion of interest in the benefits of a gluten-free diet.”

This trend was initially picked up by health food specialists, and large scale food manufacturers “have only just begun to aggressively pursue a gluten-free marketing strategy.”

Large companies to have become involved in the gluten-free market over the past few years include Anheuser-Busch, which released a gluten-free beer in 2006, and General Mills, which converted its Rice Chex brand into a gluten-free product last year.

Internet self-help

The report also mentions the importance of the internet in this growing trend, with thousands of sites dedicated to gluten-free diets as an answer to a variety of medical problems.

“Despite a lack of current medical evidence connecting gluten with autism, ADHD, irritated bowel syndrome and various other conditions, it does not deter a public seeking self-help...The hard lines that medical professionals draw between a valid reason for a gluten-free diet and a fad do not exist among these patients and consumers.”

Packaged Facts predicts that the healthy image – and sales volume – of gluten-free foods will only improve as more manufacturers of healthy products reformulate with gluten free ingredients.

Gluten-free food labeling standards proposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were expected to be finalized by the end of 2008 and are now overdue. If the FDA’s proposed standards are enacted, only products that contain less than 20 micrograms of gluten per gram will be allowed to carry a gluten free label.