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Dispatches from IFT 2014

Gluten-free: A ‘perfect storm’ fueled by food skepticism and fad diets

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By Kacey Culliney+

30-Jun-2014
Last updated on 01-Jul-2014 at 14:18 GMT

Processed food skepticism and fad dieting played a big part in the gluten-free boom, says the research director of Packaged Facts.

Speaking to BakeryandSnacks.com at IFT 2014 in New Orleans last week, David Sprinkle said the gluten-free boom showed no sign of slowing down and that it would continue to be fueled by a number of factors.

Firstly, there were mechanical influences like families purchasing gluten-free because of a celiac in the household or someone with gluten intolerance, he said, but noted that the drivers were far broader than that.

“Gluten-free was a case of almost a perfect storm, in that it tied into the low-carb movement; it tied into concerns about wheat; it tied into concerns about wheat belly; it tied into concerns about white foods. All these dieting trends and sort of concerns - and even to a degree, phobias about food - ended up tying in with gluten-free,” he said.

“So you had enormous demand for products even though you had a relatively small incidence of real celiac disease or gluten intolerance.”

Take caution with broader ‘free from’ development

As more companies worked to develop gluten-free products, many were working to include other ‘free from’ or allergen claims on pack – innovation that made sense from a manufacturing stand-point, Sprinkle said.

“You’re basically rebuilding the product virtually from scratch, so you can consider all the factors you want to.”

However, he warned that caution must be taken. “There’s a danger there because in the end, we buy foods. The more claims we start reading; we start becoming skeptical – are we eating a food? Or are we eating some sort of Franken food, engineered product?”

“There is a happy balance where you do want to have claims that strike the right notes with consumers and appeal to a reasonably wide range of consumers, but at the same time you don’t want to come across as a Franken food.”

Gluten-free: A mainstream or specialty future?

Asked if gluten-free had a future in mainstream, Sprinkle said: “The specialty still are the main innovators and the main incubator; it’s especially true in natural and organics.”

He said most future innovation would likely come from these specialty, natural and/or organic companies and there was space to develop smart and informed products that served a real need.

However, mainstream players would continue to have a part to play – evidenced by the success of General Mills’ Rice Chex. This, he said, was a gluten-free product that had experienced double-digit growth in the past decade even when the breakfast cereal category was declining.

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