ROCKVILLE, MD. — The market for gluten-free foods is expected to reach $4.2 billion in 2012, which represents a compound annual growth rate of 28% during the 2008 to 2012 period, according to a recent report from Packaged Facts on the gluten-free market.

Snacks and granola bars represent about 15% share of the market, and frozen dinners/entrees/pizzas, crackers/salty snacks, and shelf-stable dinners and soups each represented about 11% to 12% of sales.

A Packaged Facts survey showed 18% of adults are buying or consuming food products labeled as gluten-free, up from 15% in October 2010. In addition, the share of gluten-free consumers who are buying more of these foods has jumped nearly 30 points and is now reaching 90%.

“The conviction that gluten-free products are generally healthier is the top motivation for purchase of these products,” said David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts.

The belief gluten-free products are generally healthier was the top motivation for purchase by a significant margin with 35% of gluten-free consumers citing this as the top reason for purchase. This may be attributed to the fact the majority of gluten-free specialty marketers operate according to principles associated with mindful eating and intentional living, Packaged Facts said. In addition, consumers may have first become aware of the category while shopping at health and natural food stores. Also, “free-from” designations suggest what the food does not contain is somehow undesirable and a food without those ingredients or components is better for you.

Other top motivators for choosing gluten-free include weight management, the low-carb attribute of the products, the belief the products are higher quality, and a member of someone in the household having a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, wheat or other ingredients.

Many gluten-free products also have other attributes, such as being organic, vegetarian, bioengineered-free or allergen-friendly, and any of these also may be a reason for purchase. Medial awareness of celiac disease, food allergies and other such issues also will continue to grow the market, the survey said.

Packaged Facts said between 2008 and 2012, the number of global new gluten-free product announcements grew by a compound annual growth rate of 48%. More than 80% of new product introductions are in North America and Europe. Overall, the market is expected to exceed $6.6 billion by 2017.