No trends gallery would be complete without a look at the gluten-free market. But what’s the size of the prize?
If you are purely targeting celiacs (who account for less than 1% of the US population - and less than that if we’re talking diagnosed celiacs) it’s small fry. Meanwhile, just 0.1% of people are estimated to have wheat allergies.
If you widen the scope to include people with gluten sensitivity - estimated to account for up to 6% of the population (but no one really knows) - the numbers are juicier, but it’s still a niche market.
But if you include the far broader demographic of consumers trying to reduce or avoid gluten or wheat for health, weight management or other reasons, the gluten-free market opportunity is potentially huge, says Packaged Facts, which predicts US retail sales will top $6.5bn in 2017.
Steve Hughes: I’ve been following food trends for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like gluten-free
But are current double-digit growth rates sustainable?
One man that thinks so is Boulder Brands CEO Steve Hughes, who is in charge of the Udi's and Glutino gluten-free brands.
“I’ve been following food trends for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like gluten-free", says Hughes. "And there is still so much white space in this market.
“I’m convinced this trend has very long legs. I’d say that in five years, 5-10% of every category that’s wheat-based will go away or will become gluten free, whether it’s pizza, pasta, bread, or whatever. The market is underserved.”
There is still so much white space in the gluten-free market
Many of the new growth opportunities are in new channels, notably drug, club and foodservice, he says, with drug stores now actively looking at introducing gluten-free sections, club stores increasing their offerings and foodservice players starting to recognize that this is a category they can’t ignore.
“There are so many opportunities in bread, pizza, hamburger and hot dog buns. Currently we’re seeing it’s something that the smaller foodservice chains are doing, but in the next two to three years I think the multinationals are going to have to study this hard.”
As for the retail market, mainstream retailers have finally woken up to the gluten-free opportunity in a big way in the past two years, he says, with dedicated gluten-free sections in frozen, bakery and grocery aisles as firms recognize that “consumers don’t want to go on a treasure hunt” to find what they are looking for.
Click here to read all the latest news on the gluten-free market.