Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA.com after Kellogg unveiled plans to launch a gluten-free variant of Rice Krispies at the same price and store location as the original, rival General Mills said it had identified gluten-free as a “significant incremental opportunity”.
General Mills, which introduced gluten-free Chex cereals in 2008, Betty Crocker gluten-free brownies, cookies, desserts and cake mixes in 2009 and a pancake mix in 2010, is targeting a range of customers from diagnosed celiacs to those choosing gluten-free for ‘lifestyle reasons’.
But there was also growing demand from consumers with ‘gluten sensitivity’, claimed the firm: “While celiac disease affects about one percent of the US population, experts believe there is a separate portion of the population that has a related and poorly-understood condition known as gluten sensitivity, which can result in stomach aches, gas and diarrhea.”
Its comments follow claims by leading bakery ingredients supplier Penford Food Ingredients that more large US manufacturers are looking at gluten-free on the back of “more people being diagnosed with celiac disease, more people avoiding wheat and more people [erroneously] thinking gluten-free is healthier”.
International Food Network group leader Scott Martling also highlights gluten-free as a growing trend, fueled less by a growth in diagnosed celiacs than a perception that gluten-free is synonymous with ‘healthy’: “I don’t know why, but gluten has become of those ‘negative nutrients’ that people are trying to take out.”
Mintel, meanwhile has reported a 40 percent surge in sales of gluten-free products in the US natural* retail channel between summer 2008 and summer 2010.
Kellogg: We don’t claim gluten-free is healthier
But Kellogg stressed it was not trying to reinforce misleading notions about gluten-free being better-for-you by using wholegrain rice. This was chosen purely to add flavor and differentiate the gluten-free product from the original, said Brandy Ruff, director, brand public relations.
“The intended consumer is anyone who has gluten sensitivity, celiac disease or wheat allergy. As for using whole grain brown rice, we did so for the mild flavor it imparts and to differentiate it from original Rice Krispies. However, we are not making any whole-grain or fiber claims.”
Barley malt, the gluten-containing ingredient in original Rice Krispies, was used for flavor, and not technical reasons, added Ruff. “The barley malt serves to round out the flavor in original Rice Krispies. The brown rice used in new Rice Krispies Gluten Free contributes great flavoring, so omitting the barley malt was not a technical challenge.”
Gluten-free vs conventional. Same price, same location?
The recommended retail price for gluten-free Rice Krispies would match the original, said Ruff. “Kellogg recognizes the difficulty that many adults and children who have gluten sensitivity and celiac disease have in finding foods they can enjoy at a reasonable price.”
The gluten-free Rice Krispies, which will be produced by a third party, will also be stocked next to the original and not in a separate area of the store reserved for people on special diets, added Ruff.
General Mills’ gluten-free cereals are also priced “similarly” to conventional counterparts, but its gluten-free mixes cost more, reflecting the technical challenges involved, said the firm: “The Chex reformulation involved replacing the existing malt syrup from barley with new malt syrup not made from barley. However, suggested retail prices for Betty Crocker Gluten Free Dessert Mixes and Gluten Free Bisquick are roughly $2 more than traditional versions.
“Since the gluten in wheat flour provides the structure for traditional brownies, cookies and cakes, creating dessert mixes without gluten is a significant and remarkable technical achievement.”
Mintel: Gluten-free cereals surge 40% in natural channel 2008-2010
According to Mintel, US sales of gluten-free cereal rose 40.9 percent from $15.7m in the year to June 2008 to $17.9m in the year to June 2010 in the natural* retail channel, while overall sales of gluten-free surged 40 percent from $116.5m to $163.1m in the same period.
“Gluten-free segments generally outpaced dairy-free segments, with gluten-free bread and baked goods, gluten-free cereals, and gluten-free pasta and pizza enjoying the largest percentage increases,” said the market researcher.
Gluten-free bread and baked goods showed the strongest growth, with sales up 59.6 percent, from $17m for the year to June 2008, to $27.2m for the year to June 2010 in the natural channel.
* The Natural Products Supermarket Channel is defined by SPINS as any full-format supermarket selling more than $2m in annual sales with at least 50% of sales coming from natural product industry segments and less than 50% of sales coming from dietary supplements.