The move, from one of the world's largest food manufacturers, signifies the growing opportunities there are for catering for consumers suffering from allergy or intolerances. According to market analyst Mintel the overall 'free-from' market has already enjoyed annual sales growth of over 300 per cent since 2000, indicating how lucrative the sector can be. Aiming to get ahead of this market, General Mills last week said it will from now on manufacture Rice Chex cereal with molasses instead of barley malt syrup, and so will be suitable for consumers suffering from an intolerance to gluten. Gluten, the common name for the natural proteins found in wheat, barley and rye, can provoke a reaction in consumers suffering from coeliac disease, when the proteins attack their immune systems and cause damage to the lining of the small intestine. According to Rohan Thakur, marketing manager of the Chex brand, most other cereals on the market are currently off-limits to coeliac disease sufferers, making the new cereal a "revolutionary step forward." "General Mills and Chex recognize the growing consumer demand for gluten-free products and we're pleased to make the product available to more people," he said in a statement. The company also said it has taken the "requisite steps" to prevent contamination during production, and that the new formula will adhere to new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) free-from standards, expected to be finalised some time this year. The FDA last January proposed new gluten-free labelling in the US, stating that any product containing any species of the grains wheat, rye, barley, or a crossbred hybrid of these grains, should be deemed misbranded. The agency said at the time the labels should help food manufacturers to cater for coeliac disease, one of the most common genetic disorders in the US, affecting around one per cent of the population. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the gluten-free market will be worth €1.25bn ($1.7bn) by 2010, as one in 133 consumers suffer from coeliac disease. Figures are almost as high in Europe, and the UK is the third-biggest market for gluten-free foods (after the US and Italy), amounting to £47m (€70m) in 2006, USDA said.