Infographic: The surprising reasons consumers try gluten-free

by Eric Schroeder and Monica Watrous
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CHICAGO — Sixty-five per cent of consumers who eat or used to eat gluten-free foods do so because they think they are healthier, and 27% eat them because they feel they aid in their weight loss efforts, according to research from Mintel. But the eating patterns may be based on a faulty premise.

Infographic: Why consumers choose gluten-free.

“It’s really interesting to see that consumers think gluten-free foods are healthier and can help them lose weight because there’s been no research affirming these beliefs,” said Amanda Topper, food analyst at Mintel. “The view that these foods and beverages are healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts is a major driver for the market, as interest expands across both gluten-sensitive and health-conscious consumers.”

The market for gluten-free foods and beverages has been on a sharp upswing in recent years. The market increased 44% between 2011-13, according to Mintel, and sales are expected to reach $10.5 billion in 2013.

A flurry of new products touting gluten-free have been introduced in recent months, led by a steady string of launches from General Mills, Inc. The Minneapolis-based company has introduced gluten-free Vanilla Chex to go along with other gluten-free options in the Chex brand. The company also expanded its gluten-free offerings under the Betty Crocker and Pillsbury brands. Mondel─ôz International Inc., East Hanover, N.J., introduced Nabisco Rice Thins earlier this year, and Toufayan Bakeries, Ridgefield, N.J., recently expanded its lineup with three gluten-free wraps: spinach, garden vegetable and savory tomato.

The demand for gluten-free foods and beverages comes despite the fact the incidence of celiac disease affects only about 1% of the U.S. population. Mintel’s research found about 36% of Americans who eat or used to eat gluten-free foods said they do so for reasons other than sensitivity. Meanwhile, 7% said they eat them for inflammation and 4% said they purchase them to combat depression.

“When looking at the top 10 gluten-free food product claims in Mintel’s Global New Products Database, after gluten-free and low/no/reduced allergen, there also are product claims associated with being natural and free of additives or preservatives,” Ms. Topper said. “The positioning of gluten-free products as having multiple health benefits, such as low fat or no animal ingredients, may be leading to consumer perceptions that gluten-free products are healthier than products that contain gluten.”
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