Gluten-free baking not in Pinnacle plans
by Eric Schroeder
PARSIPPANY, N.J. — Despite the fact one of its main competitors has ramped up production of gluten-free baking products over the past year, Pinnacle Foods Inc. does not see the trend as sustainable as some other trends. As a result, the company has held off on introducing any gluten-free Duncan Hines baking mixes and does not foresee going down that road anytime soon.
“Having been in the industry for almost 30 years now we have seen health and wellness trends come and go, and what I don’t know is if gluten-free is going to be for the long term or not — although it is making a lot of impact and noise right now,” said Bob Gamgort, chief executive officer of Pinnacle Foods in a March 6 conference call with analysts to discuss fiscal 2013 results.
He said about half of Pinnacle’s products, which include frozen vegetables, syrups, sauces and dressings, are gluten-free, and the company has chosen to certify and label some as such. But the company simply has not seen the demand for gluten-free on the baking side of its business.
“All of the work that we have done with our consumers suggests that that isn’t that attractive to them,” Mr. Gamgort said. “We have the ability to introduce gluten-free versions of our baking mixes. Our concern, to be quite frank with you, is that the quality of those disappoints, and we don’t see them as sustainable as some other formats.
“But if there is a breakthrough that allows us to do it in a way that meets the Duncan Hines taste profile and quality we would accelerate that. But I think most people have been disappointed with those products after they tried them unless they absolutely need them because of celiac disease, but that’s a relatively small percentage of people that are buying gluten-free right now.”
In contrast to Pinnacle’s stance, Minneapolis-based General Mills, Inc. has been active in introducing gluten-free baking mixes, including Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Mix, Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Devil’s Food Cake Mix, Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Brownie Mix, and Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix. Last summer, General Mills added to its Betty Crocker brand with the launch of two more gluten-free baking products: Gluten-Free Sugar Cookie mix and All-Purpose Gluten-Free Rice Flour Blend.