While the number one ingredient in Cheerios is whole grain oats, which do not contain gluten, Cheerios are not currently safe for celiacs as small amounts of gluten-containing grains such as wheat, rye and barley can be introduced at farms where oats are grown, or when they are transported, creating a cross contamination risk.
However, in a posting on its Taste of General Mills blog, the company says it has “developed a way – years in the making – to sort out the small amount of wheat, rye and barley in our supply of whole oats that are inadvertently introduced at the farms where the oats were grown, or during transportation of the whole oats to the mill”.
Asked how this had been achieved, Mike Siemienas, manager, brand media relations at General Mills, told FoodNavigator-USA: "Through a proprietary method, we now have the ability to remove the wheat, rye and barley from the oats. This is something we have worked on developing for several years and this process takes place after the oats are delivered to our facility from the farm."
This is probably the biggest news for Cheerios since our commitment to whole grain in every box
This ensures that the oats used in Cheerios meet the FDA’s strict <20ppm gluten guidelines for gluten free products, said Jim Murphy, president of General Mills’ Big G cereal division.
“This is exciting news for the cereal category, probably the biggest news since our commitment to whole grain in every box.
“We know there are many consumers – as much as 30% in the U.S. – who avoid gluten. And, people are looking for more gluten-free options for cereal so it’s important that we make these five varieties of gluten-free Cheerios available.”
We are working at making more of the Cheerios franchise gluten-free
While recipe changes were not required for four Cheerios variants, reformulation was needed for multi-Grain Cheerios, which contain wheat and barley (these are being replaced by the gluten-free grains sorghum and millet).
The gluten-free Cheerios products “will be clearly marked for consumers”, said General Mills.
Asked what was happening with other Cheerios products, Siemienas told FoodNavigator-USA: "We are working at making more of the Cheerios franchise gluten-free, however at this time the other products are not gluten-free. Also, Cheerios products that contain a cluster, like Cheerios Protein, are not currently slated to go gluten-free."