While food manufacturers have been happily bridging two consumer bases with gluten-free products – consumers chasing perceived health benefits as well as people who suffer from coeliac disease – Baroke said the industry was not meeting the needs of all coeliac sufferers.
She called on the industry to be more pro-active in encouraging greater awareness amongst consumers and catering specifically for coeliac sufferers with cheaper, more accessible products, in a Euromonitor blog.
On the rise but undiagnosed
Last year researchers from the University of Nottingham showed a fourfold increase in the diagnosis of UK coeliac disease since the 1990s and they suggested that three-quarters of cases remain undiagnosed.
Yet due to an invasive and unpleasant diagnostic test – a gut biopsy is the only definitive way to test for coeliac disease – many consumers choose to self-diagnose, cutting out wheat products for a while to see if they experience any health benefits.
For Baroke, given the serious long-term effects of untreated coeliac disease which range from osteoporosis to infertility and thyroid problems, it’s an issue that the industry needs to actively address.
“Since most coeliac sufferers are still in the dark about having the condition, there is much need for stepping up educational efforts. Even if an afflicted individual has dabbled with gluten-free foods, the likelihood is high that they may not have been strict enough to achieve palpable results.
“... The industry should get involved in encouraging consumers to go for diagnosis rather than half-hearted experimentation.”
Shift the focus
Investing in a campaign which targets a very specific consumer base may seem restrictive to food manufacturers, but having one diagnosed coeliac sufferer in a household will often mean the whole family eats gluten-free.
And while years of NPD mean that gluten-free products are now comparable for taste, texture and appearance, most are not within the price range of lower-income families.
“A special focus should be placed on socioeconomically less well-off segments of the consumer base, especially parents whose children may be facing a lifetime of malaise,” said Baroke.
“With the premium end of the market already well covered, the focus needs to shift to the economy realm, enabling those on a small budget to buy what they need for a healthy and varied gluten-free diet.”
Baroke also said that children from lower income families were 80% less likely to be diagnosed with the disease than their wealthier peers.
Who to target and how?
Once confined to specialised brands selling in organic shops, big brands have started bringing out gluten-free lines in mainstream supermarkets.
“Being able to choose from mass-market brands is helpful for shoppers, especially where parents of young children are concerned. Youngsters may insist obstinately on eating the same foods as their peers for fear of being seen as ‘different’,” said Baroke.
“Major players have already tuned into this and they are launching gluten-free extensions of blockbuster brands.”
However, a 2014 survey by Coeliac UK showed that around three-quarters of coeliac shoppers had to visit more than one supermarket to complete their shopping, suggesting that there may be scope for more.
Whether companies choose to target coeliac sufferers by placing their products in the free-from aisle, or mainstream consumers who will head for the aisle devoted to that product, varies.
Last year Nestlé launched a gluten-free range of cornflakes in Europe which it placed in the cereal aisle whereas Kellogg’s decided to sell their UK line of gluten-free organic puffed corn in the free-from section.
CEO of Coeliac UK Sarah Sleet told our sister publication Bakery and Snacks that this variety allows manufacturers to cater for everyone.
“There’s not a simple answer to be honest. Some people like the free-from because they can go straight there and it’s easy to spot. On the other hand, some people are more than happy to see it normalized and mixed in with everything else,” she said.
Datamonitor figures for 2009-2014 showed that gluten-free bakery products, including cereals, had a 73% global growth rate.