“The prevailing problem is that many Americans simply may not realize they are gluten intolerant/sensitive, or they may be ignoring signs and symptoms,” said David Browne, senior analyst at Mintel. “While food companies may be overdoing it unnecessarily with gluten-free label claims that are appearing on everything from tomato sauce to scallops, the message is getting out and it’s likely that many more consumers will engage in the sector, both for foods eaten at home and at restaurants.”
According to Kerry Watson, SPINS natural and specialty product expert, “more doctors are testing for these conditions and more people are experimenting with a gluten-free diet. It’s our responsibility as an industry to answer the needs of this growing population.”
According to Mintel Menu Insights, gluten-free menu items have increased 280% from Q3 2008 to Q3 2011. Meanwhile, Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) found that product launches with a gluten-free claim nearly tripled in 2011 to roughly 1700 products as compared to 2007.
Alexandra Smith, Mintel’s director of consumer trends added: “Inspire’s Factory Fear trend shows that food scares have pushed ingredients analysis up the agenda. Demand for ‘free-from’ foods is on the rise as consumers become better educated (and more fearful) about allergies and additives. This has certainly increased awareness of the potential dangers in things like trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and now gluten, but it may have also contributed to burnout. When we’re constantly warned about new food dangers, we eventually tune out.”
According to a report on “free from” foods by U.K.-based Leatherhead Food Research, gluten free is the fastest growing “suitable for/free from” claim, indicating that this market has strong growth potential in upcoming years.
Much of the anticipated growth in the gluten-free sector is linked to healthy perceptions of gluten-free foods, particularly among groups of consumers who are becoming increasingly aware of their diet, health and well-being and therefore actively seek suitable for/free from products without having a diagnosed allergy.
A consumer survey of 3000 consumers, published within the Leatherhead report, suggests that American and European consumers perceive the main benefits of “free from” foods to be: to maintain a healthy balanced diet; to help cope with a condition; to help digestive health.
This goes some way to validating the theory that “free from” foods have the ability to extend their appeal to a wider audience, moving beyond those consumers with a diagnosed food allergy. In addition, a high proportion (39%) of the total survey sample answered that they had some form of intolerance or sensitivity to food; this suggests that there are lucrative opportunities to be had in this market.
While until now the market has developed through niche brands, it is expected that an increasing number of recognizable household brands will enter the marketplace. In addition, consumers have come to expect products to be healthy and taste good and are reluctant to trade one off against the other. Ingredient and technology innovations will therefore help to drive this market forward, for example solutions to improve taste, texture and structure of “free from” foods are in demand.