NEW YORK – General Mills’ reformulation of its Rice Chex cereal into a gluten-free product was cited by the market research firm Packaged Facts as an indicator of the impact gluten-free products are having on the marketplace. In its “Gluten-free foods and beverages in the U.S., 3rd edition” report, Packaged Facts argued the gluten-free trend has gone mainstream.

“People with celiac disease have been the natural drivers of the gluten-free market,” said Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts. “However, there is evidence suggested that eliminating gluten from the diet may relieve autism in children and adult rheumatoid arthritis. Add to that the healthy ‘aura’ some consumers have attached to gluten-free products and you create a demand for these foods and beverages that mainstream food manufacturers and retailers are increasingly happy to satisfy.”

Another indication of the mainstreaming of the gluten-free trend is the shift in the retail distribution of gluten-free products from specialty stores to retail chains, according to the market research firm. The increase in the number of dedicated gluten-free products carried by supermarkets and mass merchandisers demonstrated that gluten-free is becoming, as one marketer interviewed by Packaged Facts in the report stated, “just a regular grocery item.”

Packaged Facts estimated the gluten-free food and beverage market reached $2.6 billion in retail sales during 2010. The compound annual growth rate for the market was estimated at over 30% during the 2006 to 2010 period. In the report, Packaged Facts predicted growth will continue over the next five years and the market for gluten-free products will approach $6 billion in sales by 2015.