Gaining loyalty in the gluten-free market

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Wheat Gluten-free diet Celiac disease

Despite no globally accepted definition for gluten-free, gluten-free food manufacturers should aim for the lowest possible levels of gluten to gain loyal celiac customers, says dietitian Shelley Case.

Interest in gluten-free diets has boomed in recent years, but gluten-free food manufacturers should focus on appealing to those consumers with celiac disease if they want to ensure longevity in the marketplace, said registered dietitian and gluten free nutrition expert Shelley Case speaking at the recent Natural Products Expo West event in Anaheim, California.

She said that about one percent of the population is interested in gluten-free foods because they have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder with symptoms that are triggered by consumption of gluten, the protein in wheat, rye, barley and spelt.

Research suggests that about 0.1 percent of the population has a wheat allergy, while up to six percent may have some kind of gluten sensitivity. However, the majority of gluten-free food consumers – about 15 percent of the population – are eating gluten-free foods for other reasons, such as a perception that they could help with weight loss, or relieve the symptoms of ADHD or autism, Case said.

“This is the group that’s going to shift,”​ she said. “…Celiac disease is definitely increasing and we are going to see it more and more as more people get diagnosed.”

‘No test to zero’

Case said that there is no one global definition for ‘gluten free’, but in the United States it is generally considered to be less than 20 parts per million (ppm).

The lowest amount of gluten that can be tested and quantified with a number is 5ppm, she said, although it is possible to detect gluten at 3ppm.

“We can’t test to zero,”​ she said. “For manufacturers, I would suggest aiming for as low as possible…You need to know how much gluten is in a food product in parts per million and you need to know how much of that product a consumer is going to eat.”

Case explained that there is a lot of debate about how much gluten a person with celiac disease can safely consume in the long term.

“One study saw problems if people ate more than 50mg of gluten per day. But some people started reacting at as low as 10mg per day,”​ she said. “The safe area is under 20ppm, so that consumers can eat large amounts of gluten free products without having any problems.”

This variation is why Case recommends food makers to take gluten as low as possible in their products.

“If you can convince people that you are making good products that are safe products then you will have a loyal customer for life,”​ she said.

Gluten-free nutrition

Case added that many celiac diets are low in nutrients, particularly fiber and iron, as manufacturers have often relied on combinations of rice flour, corn starch, potato starch and tapioca starch for gluten free formulations. She urged manufacturers to move beyond these relatively nutrient-poor ingredients toward other, more nutrient-rich ingredients, such as mesquite flour, millet, nut flours, pulse flours, sorghum, soy, and teff.

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Gluten free foods

Posted by Rob,

The real gluten free products would be like cookies, pasta, bread and crackers. I think the numbers are really skewed to what constitutes as gluten free foods. We sell just the best tasting gluten free foods at exclusively and have been serving the gluten free community for over 12 years.

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If they can down to ...

Posted by Ema,

So if they can test fro gluten down to 3-5ppm why then is the US still saying 20ppm? The 200 ppm came about because the tests at the time couldn't detect below that. Now we have more sensitive tests so why not lower it to that number? Those of us who as very sensitive to gluten shoule be able to know we are buying something that won't make us . If it satys 20 ppm I won't be buying as many gf foods.

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wheat flour as a coating

Posted by Kathleen Pape,

I have Celiac disease, diagnosed 10 yrs ago; recently while eating out for breakfast I have encountered "home fries" that are "crisped up" by being supplied with wheat flour; they are obviously not made on site. Why, with the upsurge of demand for GF foods, is this being done now, or has it always been the case? Other flours can be used that are gluten-free and cheaper.

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