The Mexican bread titan is set to pump $1bn into growing US market presence by 2015, but packaged foods analyst at Euromonitor International Matthew Hudak has warned it must not ignore the gluten-free boom when expanding.
“The biggest trend they need to be cautious of is gluten-free diets. They need to find out how much it really is a trend – it’s important to keep track of that,” Hudak told BakeryandSnacks.com.
Grupo Bimbo hasn't flagged gluten-free as a sector it is looking to tap into in its US investment.
Gluten-free: To be or not to be?
The US has the globe’s largest gluten-free market, followed by Europe. Retail value of US gluten-free food was pegged at $405m in 2012, up 15.9% on the year before, according to Euromonitor data.
Mintel data indicates sales of gluten-free bread and baked goods in the US doubled from $56m in 2009 to $119m in 2011. Sales of gluten-free potato chips, pretzels and snacks also surged, from $225m in 2009 to $388m in 2011.
Grupo Bimbo doesn’t specialize in gluten-free, but the firm should certainly consider entering the sector, said Hudak.
It’s a big issue for the bread industry in particular, he said, as more and more Americans decide to cut gluten out of their diets.
He said the company has two options – they could buy out a big gluten-free bakery player or introduce gluten-free variants under some of its brands.
A winner? Gluten-free brand variants
“I think taking an established brand and developing a gluten-free version would be the best option,” he said. Although Hudak said it would prove costly because of the need for separate production.
Using the Thomas brand would be “smart”, he said. “People would be willing to trust a gluten-free Thomas bagel.”
“They might never think to enter the gluten-free sector. But no matter what, gluten-free is going to be an issue for them,” Hudak said.
It's estimated that just under 1% of the US population has celiac disease, although less than 10% of these are diagnosed. But research from the NPD Group found that 30% of US adults are trying to cut down on gluten driven by a belief that cutting down will help you lose weight and improve your health.
An August 2012 Packaged Facts survey found that 35% of consumers bought gluten-free because they considered it healthier, 27% buy it to manage weight and 21% consider it low in carbohydrates.