Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder with symptoms triggered by gluten, the protein in wheat, rye, barley and spelt, and the only known treatment is complete avoidance of gluten.
Alex Willey, team leader consumer operations at Leatherhead, led a survey in September among 310 people with coeliac disease, which examined their shopping habits, liking of current gluten-free products, and possible future improvements. He told FoodNavigator that the researchers had been surprised at the prevalence of price concerns among coeliac patients.
“We went into this survey anticipating from anecdotal information that consumers were going to complain about the sensory aspects,” he said – but price emerged as a far bigger issue than any sensory problems.
Price was coeliacs’ top problem with gluten-free foods, with 51% saying they ‘strongly disagreed’ that gluten-free foods were good value for money, and a further 38% saying they ‘slightly’ disagreed. Willey said that in terms of price difference, typical free-from bread might cost 50p per 100 grams, while ordinary bread might cost about 17p per 100 grams.
When asked about potential improvements to gluten-free products, ‘shopping related’ aspects came out top, including value for money, which was cited by 84% of respondents; range of products (76%); and availability (70%) leading consumers’ wish lists.
Texture, taste and healthier ingredients
However, sensory issues were still significant, and most respondents said they expected ‘standard’ foods to be better than their gluten-free counterparts from a sensory perspective. Nearly half of those surveyed (48%) said they would like to see improved texture in gluten-free products; 46% mentioned flavour; and 42% said they would like healthier ingredients.
“Clearly there may be opportunities for those who manufacture these products,” said Willey.
In terms of product type, baked goods – and particularly bread – were most in need of improvement, according to the survey’s participants.
“We were very much expecting there to be issues around the sensory quality and we were unsurprised that bread was the biggest item to improve,” he said. “It was by far and away the category that needed improvement. It was right across the board, to do with taste and texture, through to choice and perception of freshness.”
Bakery was followed by snacks, breakfast cereals and frozen foods as the top categories in need of innovation, according to the survey.