For celiac patients, the gluten-free trend has turned into manna from heaven.
That’s become even more so since the movement’s pop-culture popularity has fueled a flurry of new products resulting in a cornucopia of better-tasting snacks and baked goods for those suffering from the disease and gluten intolerance.
“We have benefitted greatly from interest from celebrities and other people,” said Pam Cureton, clinical and research dietician at the Center for Celiac Research in Baltimore specializing in the treatment of celiac disease. “Is it harmful? It can be low in vitamins, mineral and fiber, but a gluten-free diet can also be undertaken correctly. The biggest harm is going to be to your wallet.”
Nate Fisher, chief executive officer of Salt Lake City-based Julia’s Table, a producer of gluten-free baked foods, remembers what it was like growing up in a family where his mother, Julia, had celiac disease and whose one wish was “to eat just like everyone else.”
Years ago, he said options were sparse. Mr. Fisher recalled how his father would bribe him by promising fast food later if he ate the gluten-free meal now.
Today, Julia’s Table offers a variety of certified gluten-and allergen-free breads, rolls, cookies brownies and wraps that are co-manufactured and sold across the nation.
To reach a broader audience, however, the company creates products made without gluten, and many of them are free of the Top 8 allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat and soybeans.
[Related reading: Gluten-free baked foods persevere by staying in step with emerging trends]
Marion Edwards, chief marketing officer for Julia’s Table, noted the brand’s consumer target audience consists of moms with families seeking healthy choices and lifestyles. Overall, millennials and Gen X families make up about 80% of its social media and subscriber audience.
“Our strategy is inclusivity, not exclusivity, and that is anchored in taste as the first pillar of development,” she said.
That objective, she added, involves making products not just for those members with major allergies and auto-immune diseases.
The line is also positioned as school-safe for students.
Creating allergen-free baked goods that taste more like their conventional counterparts has been a long time coming for Ms. Cureton’s patients, many of whom remember those days when they couldn’t taste the difference between the products and their packaging.
“I’m very excited the way the gluten-free market has boomed the way it has, and I encourage that crossover market,” she said. “I love that my daughter enjoys gluten-free pretzels or some other crackers out there not because they’re gluten-free but because they’re just a good product.”
Ms. Cureton, a member of the Grain Foods Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board, suggested that the crossover market allows manufacturers to produce gluten-free snacks and baked goods more profitably, but she stressed that the larger group of dieters have so many more nutritious — and less expensive — options besides cutting back on baked goods.
“It’s been a blessing and a curse,” she said. “The blessing is there are so many products that are gluten-free, so the selection is amazing, but it comes at a cost.”
Gluten-free is part of the decades-long, low-carb mentality that has surged and declined as fad diets have come and gone. Several of these diets have one thing in common: They started as a way to treat and alleviate the symptoms of a condition or disease; then the diets morphed into the mainstream as a so-called health-and-wellness initiative.
Ms. Cureton noted that the ketogenic diet was originally formulated after studies showed that eating high-fat, high-protein, no-carb foods could provide help for epileptics who suffered from seizures.
Likewise, the FODMAP movement was initially developed for people with irritable-bowel syndrome.
Tom Vierhile, vice president of strategic insights, North America, Innova Market Insights, pointed out that gluten-free has matured with growth in new product launches moderating across packaged food and beverage products.
Specifically, Innova’s database shows that national launches of gluten-free products grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.5% from 2016 to 2019.
[Related reading: An introduction to gluten-free flours]
The top category, snacks, saw introduction growth at an 8.0% CAGR during that period, while new baked goods increased at a healthy 5.7% CAGR.
Bakery is also the top category for keto within the gluten-free spectrum, followed by the cereals and sports nutrition categories.
Overall, gluten-free contains no wheat, barley or other grains that contain gliadin and glutenin while keto greatly restricts carbs. Some formulations may contain higher carbs than might be expected, which are then balanced by high fiber
Mr. Vierhile reported that the number of “keto” or “ketogenic” gluten-free bakery and cereal products have been growing rapidly, though from a relatively modest base. According to Innova’s database, new “keto” or “ketogenic” labeled gluten-free products have risen at a 94.7% and 164.0% CAGR for the 2016 to 2019 period respectively.
But look out for another new movement that could disrupt the gluten-free trend: products claiming to be grain-free.
According to the Innova database, new food and beverage products with a grain-free claim — measured by using terms like “no grain,” “without grain” or “free from grain” — grew at a 14.1% CAGR from 2016 to 2019.
Mr. Vierhile said grain-free is only about 10% as large as gluten-free from a new product launch perspective, but it remains an area to keep an eye on in the future.
This article is an excerpt from the December 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on gluten-free trends, click here.