When a bellwether brand in a niche category falters, you can’t help but question the sustainability of that market segment. Boulder Brands reported recently that increased competition from other companies in the gluten-free category contributed to a broad sales decline and a quarterly loss for the Boulder, Colo.-based maker of gluten-free products. But what if it’s more than that?
Several recent studies question the viability of a gluten-free diet in those without celiac disease. Are consumers starting to buy into that idea? At the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Show in 2014, Harry Balzer of the NPD Group suggested his data showed it was beginning to decline, and that did not portend good news. Actually, he said, “I think this one’s over.”
Of course, Boulder Brands’ problems may have had to do with its location in the freezer case, where most people don’t shop for bread — and where millennials tend to avoid because of the freezer case’s reputation for marketing processed foods. The company said it may have had to do with increased competition and inconsistent quality, such as holes in its bread. Boulder Brands also said it also may have to do more with the high price — excuse us, managing price gaps — of its gluten-free pizza, pretzels and other baked goods.Are these just excuses? Is this the beginning of the end for the much-touted gluten-free movement? Or, as the Boulder Brands suggested, are there bigger and better things to come?