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Gluten-Free Foods Continue Rapid Growth, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Growing numbers of people around the world are believe they have physical symptoms that are caused by an allergy to or intolerance of gluten, which is found in wheat and other grains such as rye and barley.  (Gluten has also long been an ingredient added to certain processed and packaged foods.)  The symptoms of problems with gluten may include bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea and bone or joint pain.  Some people have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack the small intestine when gluten is ingested (the Mayo Clinic conducted a survey in 2012 that found that 1.8 million Americans have celiac disease).  Another 18 million Americans are believed to be gluten intolerant.  At the same time, many people are convinced that they simply feel better in general, or are better able to control their weight, if they avoid foods containing gluten.

Food manufacturers are responding by producing and marketing gluten-free (also referred to a “grain-free”) foods such as pastas made out of rice, and bread made from oats or seeds.  Nielsen reported that U.S. sales of gluten-free food products doubled between 2011 and 2015, reaching $23 billion.  Restaurants are also embracing the trend, offering gluten-free alternatives to pasta, bread and other dishes.

General Mills began reformulating some of its products starting in 2008.  Rice Chex cereal was an obvious item to be marketed as gluten-free, but the firm followed up with the Betty Crocker brand launching gluten-free brownie, cookie and cake mixes.  Wegmans, a regional grocery chain with stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts, initially developed its own gluten-free products, but suppliers now provide such a wide variety of gluten-free items that it no longer focuses as heavily on its own product development.

The cost of gluten-free foods can be significantly higher than for traditional grain-based products, or products that contain gluten.  Many manufacturers see gluten-free items as a way to build profit margins by fulfilling consumers’ needs in a specialty niche.

 

 


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