Comparing demand for flour-based foods over the course of the current gluten-free dieting trend to what was happening during the Atkins dieting craze a decade ago, it is tempting to view the present situation with relief. After all, U.S. flour production has been edging up to record highs in recent years, and per capita consumption of flour has held up reasonably well. Per capita consumption in 2013 was down about 2 lbs from five years earlier. At the tail of the Atkins craze in 2005, per capita consumption was down 12 lbs from five years earlier.
While gluten-free dieting has not pummeled overall flour demand with the same ferocity as Atkins, the more recent diet is showing much better staying power. Several years into Atkins, it was clear the diet was a fad that would rapidly recede. A profile in the current issue of this publication cites Mintel forecasts of 10% growth in gluten-free product sales in 2014 and 2015, off from 15% in 2013 and 24% in 2012. Slower growth is still growth.
Even if per capita consumption of flour isn’t falling steeply, other measures are concerning. Recent I.R.I. data show four-week household penetration for bread and rolls at 71.8%, still the top ranking product but barely ahead of milk at 71.3%. To the extent that household penetration is imperiled, the grain-based foods industry should not be lulled into thinking gluten-free dieting is a more benign version of its low-carb predecessor.