Flour data point to gluten avoidance

by Josh Sosland
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Josh Sosland

Perhaps the most upbeat way to describe flour production in 2016 is “holding its own.” Yes, the 425,406,000-cwt total estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture was a new high, but output essentially has been stuck at 425 million cwts for three years. With the population edging upward by about 0.7% per year, it may be instructive to think about the situation the following way — about 2 million more Americans are going gluten-free yearly.

While that assertion may appear to be an oversimplification, recent analysis of internet activity supports just such a conclusion. Rochelle Bailis, content and insights director at Hitwise, said “gluten-free” internet searches jumped by 141% between 2014 and 2016, charting a steady climb during this period. As a result, she said gluten-free has “all the hallmarks of a ‘steady riser’” versus a fad diet. By contrast, her research suggests interest in “low carb” and “paleo” dieting, may be dissipating.

Given the lack of scientific data supporting gluten-free dieting, except for those few with diagnosable disorders such as celiac disease, the staying power of this diet is dispiriting. On a more uplifting note, Ms. Bailis identified “vegetarian” and “vegan” as two rising stars, based on internet search growth. A consumer shift in that direction would seem far more promising for flour-based foods than low carb, gluten-free, high protein, paleo and other diets all seemingly arrayed against the wholesome baked foods that have sustained mankind from time immemorial.

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