Fresher, healthier and still gluten-free

by Jeff Gelski
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Gluten-free granola bars and fresh blueberries
The growing gluten-free market evolves through nutritional attributes.

How much bigger the gluten-free market becomes and its rate of growth may depend on shelf life and nutrition. For one shelf life goal, gluten-free bread may expand more into the ambient bakery section at retail. For nutrition, the amount of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals may increase in gluten-free products.

Global sales of gluten-free products are about $3.2 billion currently and should move to between $4.3 billion and $4.4 billion by 2020, said Ewa Hudson, global head of health and wellness research for Euromonitor International. Euromonitor International’s definition of gluten-free includes only products specifically formulated as an alternative to a traditional product that contains gluten.

Ms. Hudson, when speaking Oct. 6 at SupplySide West in Las Vegas, gave several reasons for continued gluten-free growth: less expensive diagnostic tools that confirm celiac disease, larger food companies entering the gluten-free market and bringing prices down, and companies incorporating plant proteins and ancient grains into gluten-free products.

Staying fresh longer

Texture and prolonged freshness are issues in gluten-free products. Results at Boulder Brands, Inc., Boulder, Colo., provide evidence.

Udi’s gluten-free bread, owned by Boulder Brands, began appearing in racks in the ambient or in-store bakery section at retail last year. The bread normally was found in the frozen food department.

Yet this fiscal year Boulder Brands sustained a loss of $3,339,000 in the second quarter ended June 30. The company was addressing quality issues in its gluten-free bread, said Jim Leighton, interim chief executive officer and chief operating officer, in an Aug. 6 conference call.

“We’ve addressed those relative to what the consumer has seen,” he said. “They are not seeing holes in our bread anymore. We still have some challenges to reduce the cost side of that, because there’s a cost to compliance.”

So quality issues remain in gluten-free products, but hopes also remain for ambient placement at retail.

“Educating consumers and building awareness that gluten-free ingredients and products have come a long way will be critical in breaking into the fresh bread section in retail stores,” said Ricardo Rodriguez, marketing manager, confectionery and bakery, for Ingredion, Inc. “There are more functional ingredients available now, as well as complete ingredient systems that not only provide you the bulk/body that is needed in gluten-free products, but the texture and shelf life as well.”

Ingredion uses a patented Dial-In technology to translate consumer needs and sensory preferences into the food system, he said. The approach includes benchmarking wheat and gluten-free products. Ingredion used Dial-In technology to develop Precisa Bake GF, a gluten-free texturizing system labeled as modified tapioca starch, maize starch and potato starch. Precisa Bake GF allows for the creation of gluten-free bread that may be stored in ambient conditions for a shelf life of up to 21 days, Mr. Rodriguez said.

Arla Foods Ingredients, Viby, Denmark, offers Nutrilac proteins that simulate the protein structure and functionality of wheat gluten, which results in bread and cakes that have a soft and elastic crumb, according to the company.

“Gluten-free is huge right now, but such strong sales growth won’t be sustainable if products don’t taste nice because eventually consumers will drift away,” said John Kjaer, global sales manager for bakery. “The winners in this category will be bakery companies that can make gluten-free bread and cakes that are virtually indistinguishable from their conventional equivalents. Many people will tell you this is impossible, but it’s not. With Nutrilac proteins for gluten-free products, perfect gluten-free bread and cakes are a reality.”

Egg ingredients supply more than 20 functional benefits and may play a role in achieving desired form, function, appearance, taste, texture and shelf life, according to the American Egg Board, Park Ridge, Ill. When egg proteins are exposed to acid or heat, they break and the protein strand denatures. When they aggregate back together again, they entrap air and moisture, which may provide height, volume and stability to chemically leavened baked food, according to the American Egg Board.

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