Gluten-free cracker producers face two pressures: emulating much-loved foods that celiac or gluten-sensitive consumers can’t eat and breaking the mould with new inventions that stand on their own merit. According to recent data from SPINS, Schaumburg, IL, crackers labeled “gluten-free” garnered $76 million in sales in the 52 weeks ending July 7, up 27% from the previous year. That’s 13% market share of the natural channel excluding Whole Foods and Wal-Mart.

“The latest trend we’re seeing in the cracker market is the growing trend of brands providing gluten-free crackers with actual nutritious substance, not just for the sake of mimicking less healthy snacks typically found with gluten in them,” said Marjorie Merrifield, marketing director, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Gridley, CA. “Many consumers are learning that by eating products made with alternative superfoods like quinoa and chia, they can have great-tasting real food with wholesome nutrition.”

Sales of crackers made with alternative grains, including rice, grew 27% to $101 million in the past 52 weeks, according to SPINS. That includes those sold in natural stores as well as items with “natural” brand positioning in the conventional channel.

“Initially, I think the major interest was in gluten-free alternatives, direct knockoffs of traditional water crackers or Ritz crackers — people looking for the same texture and same product but in a gluten-free format,” said Jim Garsow, director of marketing, TH Foods, Inc., Loves Park, IL. “What it’s evolved into is completely different products that are more gourmet and full of whole grains and seeds.”

Another way companies producing gluten-free crackers can break the mould is by targeting consumers who are after taste and nutrition, but not necessarily a lack of gluten.

“Most of our sales are with mainstream consumers just looking for gourmet, great-tasting whole grain products,” Mr. Garsow said. “We certainly have a core consumer group of gluten-free consumers who are very supportive of our product because it tastes so great and it fits really well in their diet. They really enjoy sharing our gluten-free crackers with non-gluten-free consumers because most of the regular mainstream consumers think they have to compromise. They like to surprise them by giving them our product because it has universal appeal.”