According to a June 2013 survey of 2,000 adults commissioned by Mintel, 247 people said they ate gluten-free foods for reasons other than celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Of these, 65% said they did so because they thought gluten-free foods were healthier, while 27% did so because they felt gluten-free foods assisted weight loss efforts.
Manufacturers are increasingly appealing to consumers who see gluten-free as just part of a broader set of claims associated with ‘natural’ or healthier foods
The positioning of gluten-free products as having multiple health benefits is also contributing to consumer perceptions that gluten-free products are healthier than products that contain gluten, said Mintel food analyst Amanda Topper.
Meanwhile, the fact that many manufacturers are increasingly appealing to consumers who see gluten-free as just part of a broader set of claims associated with ‘natural’ or healthier foods is increasingly evident from the positioning - and repositioning - of many brands in the marketplace.
In some respects, this should not come as a surprise, said Topper, given that many gluten-free products also happen to be all-natural, organic and non-GMO, and many gluten-free products are also sold in the natural food channel, or natural foods sections of mainstream retailers, which consumers often associate with healthier products.
Consumers think gluten-free foods are healthier and can help them lose weight
She added: “It’s really interesting to see that consumers think gluten-free foods are healthier and can help them lose weight because there’s been no research affirming these beliefs.
“The view that these foods and beverages are healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts is a major driver for the market, as interest expands across both gluten-sensitive and health-conscious consumers.”
Almost a quarter of consumers now eat, or have someone in their household who eats, gluten-free foods, claimed Topper, adding: “Three quarters (75%) of consumers who do not have celiac disease or sensitivity to gluten eat these foods because they believe they are healthier, despite the lack of any scientific research confirming the validity of this theory.”
Market predicted to grow 48% in 2013-2016 to reach $15.6bn, predicts Mintel
Mintel predicts that US retail sales of gluten-free foods and beverages are estimated to reach $10.5bn in 2013.
In 2011-13, the market experienced growth of 44%, says Mintel, which predicts that it will grow at an even faster rate of 48% from 2013-16, to $15.6bn, at current prices.
Asked what was driving the growth, Topper told FoodNavigator-USA: “Bread products, cookies, and snacks hold the largest market share at 23.9%.
“Dairy and dairy alternatives make up the second-largest gluten-free food segment with $2.2bn in sales in 2013. This segment had the second-highest increase in market share from 2011-2013, with current market share at 21.3%.
“Sales of the gluten-free prepared foods segment reached $689m in sales in 2013, representing a sales increase of 48.7% from 2011-13.”
She added: “In terms of new products or categories in the gluten-free space, many new pizza launches have been hitting the market. Several manufacturers are experimenting with adding unique topping combinations to add bursts of flavor, as well as different sources for creating great-tasting pizza doughs.
“Because gluten-free consumers want to be able to eat typically gluten-containing foods, the demand for baking mixes for consumers to make these products in the convenience of their home has increased.
“Betty Crocker has expanded its line of gluten-free mixes to include a sugar cookie mix, as well as a rice flour blend that can be used in baking a variety of items such as cakes and breads. The brand seeks to appeal to families who want the ease of baking tasty gluten-free desserts that apply to everyone.”
Hartman Group: We thought gluten-free was a passing fad. We were wrong
The Mintel survey data squares with a 2012 survey conducted by Packaged Facts which says the “conviction that gluten-free products are generally healthier is the top motivation for purchase”.
According to Packaged Facts, 35% of consumers that buy gluten-free products say they do so because they are "generally healthier", 27% "to manage my weight", 21% because they are "generally low-carb" and 15% because a member of the household has a gluten or wheat intolerance.
Just 7% of consumers surveyed buy gluten-free products because a household member has celiac disease.
In a recent video on the Hartbeat Vista multimedia platform, Hartman Group SVP of business development Shelley Balanko said the gluten-free trend is here to stay: “Admittedly when we first weighed in, we dismissed gluten-free as a passing fad that was indicative of an enduring and underlying interest in digestive health.
“Well, time has proven that we were wrong… and we were right. We were wrong about gluten-free foods being a passing fancy, but we’ve been right about consumers’ enduring quest for digestive health, as it is deemed foundational to their overall wellness”
Technomic: Gluten-free items are now positioned as simply better-for-you choices
According to January 2013 consumer survey by The NPD Group, 30% of American adults say they are trying to reduce or exclude gluten from their diets.
Meanwhile, a recent analysis of orders from GrubHub’s database of 20,000+ restaurants in more than 500 US cities showed a significant increase in gluten-free takeout orders, while Technomic claims there has been an “explosion of gluten-free items” on menus at limited service restaurants (LSRs) in the past two years.
In its January 2013 ‘Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report’, Technomic said: “Essentially non-existent as a health claim on mainstream menus just two years ago, there are now hundreds of LSR menu items described as gluten-free.
“Once promoted as a menu alternative to the small segment of the population that suffers from celiac disease, gluten-free items are now positioned as simply better-for-you choices that are generally perceived by consumers to be lighter fare.”
Click here to read about where Boulder Brands (which owns the Udi's and Glutino gluten-free brands) thinks the next big opportunities are in the gluten-free market.