Leatherhead Food Research conducted a 310-strong survey in the UK among celiac consumers to find out what their priorities are when it comes to buying gluten-free products.
“I guess I was somewhat surprised that texture and flavor didn’t come out as more important,” said Alex Willey, team leader of sensory, consumer and market insight at Leatherhead Food Research.
“It was so interesting that value for money, range and availability came out so far ahead – a magnitude higher,” he told BakeryandSnacks.com.
Out of the 310 surveyed, 84% of respondents said value for money was the most needed improvement to gluten-free products.
This was followed by 76% that said the range of products needed to be better and 70% that said availability must be improved.
Only 48% of consumers said texture needed improving and 46% cited flavor as an attribute that could be better.
Tasty? ‘There’s a slight resignation from consumers’
Likeability scores for gluten-free products were rated low – with an average liking of five (out of nine).
“This would be deemed as low and disappointing if you’re developing a new product – it would be back to the drawing board. Manufacturers and retailers would want a liking score of seven or more,” said Willey.
In this research however, consumers said they don’t expect gluten-free products to perform well in terms of likeability; “people had low expectations… There’s a slight resignation from consumers,” Willey added.
Findings showed that 72% of consumers thought standard food and drinks would be much better from a sensory point of view. Only 1% of respondents said gluten-free foods would be ‘much better’.
Premium price frustrations
The value for money demand from celiac consumers in the UK comes in light of an expensive gluten-free environment. A quick glance at a retailer website shows that its own-label free from bread is priced at 50p/100g compared to a Hovis loaf that is 17p/100g, Willey said.
“Celiac consumers are being forced to pay a premium which must be frustrating for them. I think irrespective of how the financial market is, if gluten-free products always have such a premium, it’s always going to be an issue,” he said.
Willey said that he didn’t know how much control manufacturers had on pricing, how much research goes into it or if the economies of scale were worth it when only 1 in 100 people in the UK are diagnosed with celiac disease, but said it is crucial that manufacturers take heed of consumer concerns over price.
“Consumer research is important. Manufacturers need to keep sharing new developments and ideas with consumers and keep working according to the feedback,” he said. Retailers also need to reflect on these findings, he added.