N.M.I. expects gluten-free growth to continue

by Jeff Gelski
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Perceived health benefits may keep the gluten-free market at levels similar to that for whole grains.

HARLEYSVILLE, PA. — The U.S. gluten-free market should continue to rise as many people buying the products still perceive them as healthy, said Diane Ray, vice-president of strategic innovation for the Natural Marketing Institute, in a June 4 webinar. The U.S. gluten-free market eventually may hold at a level similar to the levels for whole grains and better-for-you fats, she said.

Household penetration of gluten-free products in the United States reached 46% in 2014, up from 29% in 2006, according to the N.M.I., based in Harleysville. Within the 46% of households buying gluten-free products, 45% of people use gluten-free foods once in a while, 44% avoid as many gluten-containing products as possible and 11% are on a strict gluten-free diet, according to the N.M.I.

People with celiac disease must avoid eating gluten, but when people in the N.M.I. survey were asked why they buy gluten-free products, only 6% said because of celiac disease. The top answers were a desire to eat healthier or have improved overall health (51%) and a desire to feel better (38%).

Maryellen Molyneaux, a managing partner for the N.M.I.

The top five attributes that gluten-free consumers look for in a gluten-free product are good taste, value for the money, nutrition, easy to find when shopping and good texture. Gluten-free products are falling short in all five attributes, said Maryellen Molyneaux, a managing partner for the N.M.I. She said food companies may find opportunities in the gluten-free market by improving those attributes or by adding variety through ancient grains or new flavors.

Ms. Molyneaux said word of mouth, more so than doctors’ recommendations, has driven gluten-free market growth in recent years. People are trying gluten-free products after talking with friends or family, talking with someone they know on a gluten-free diet, reading a news article or doing research on the Internet.

More than 17,000 gluten-free food and beverage product launches have been made in the United States since 1999, according to the N.M.I. The Whole Grain Stamp, launched in 2005, now appears on more than 10,000 products globally, according to the Whole Grains Council, Boston.

The International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2015 Food and Health survey addressed gluten, whole grains and better-for-you fats. It found 56% of Americans are trying to consume more whole grains while 27% are trying to consume more omega-3 fatty acids and 7% are trying to consume more mono- and polyunsaturated fats. The percentage of Americans trying to limit gluten or avoid it entirely is 19%, according to the IFIC Foundation survey.
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