General Mills extends gluten-free formulations to five more snacks

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gluten-free products, Gluten-free diet

In pace with growing consumer demand for gluten-free foods, US snack firm General Mills will roll out five new gluten-free formulations in the summer.

The move to reformulate snacks in their 'Big G' portfolio follows the launch of the company's gluten-free Rice Chex snack last year.

In a letter sent to customers, the US cereal giant that started life with two flour mills in the 1860s, announced that gluten-free corn, honey nut, strawberry, chocolate and cinnamon Chex would hit the retailers' shelves by 1 June this year.

"As with all reformulated products, both products may be on store shelves at the same time so we encourage our consumers to read labels/packaging carefully,"​ said the firm in the letter.

With an estimated one in a hundred UK consumers and one in 133 Americans potentially suffering from coeliac disease - an intolerance to gluten - unlocking the market for gluten-free products could reap strong financial gains for industry players.

And in terms of new product designs, gluten-free products on the shelves today are supplied by both specialist and mainstream manufacturers.

Gluten-free design challenges

Speaking earlier this year with BakeryandSnacks.com, Prof. Dr. John Taylor, the 2009-2010 president of the International Association for Cereal Science and Technology (ICC), commented that for the bakery industry there will be an increasing focus on gluten-free products and a rise in non-wheat baked goods.

Currently, many baked products on sale today are "cocktails made from starch", generally corn starch. But the challenge for food scientists in creating their gluten-free food designs is to somehow mimic the sensory qualities of wheaten products and "to try and get more flavour into the non-wheat product"​.

In addition, the formulation of certain forms of gluten-free products often requires "lots of improvers and the base starch"​, said the professor, which results in a long list of ingredients.

Alternative grains for gluten-free products are "generally more expensive than starch"​.

Further, the particular challenge for food scientist is "how to keep the products fresh". A large number of gluten-free products are available in a frozen form because the starch retrogrades quickly resulting in a product that is rapidly stale.

New gluten-free rules from Brussels

Under the new European Commission regulation (EC) No 41/2009, only foods that contain less than 20 parts of gluten in a million will be allowed to use the term 'gluten-free' on their packaging.

Further, if a product contains a gluten level of 21-100ppm, it will have to be labelled as 'very low gluten' by 2012.

Food manufacturers have previously turned to Codex Alimentarius' standard for gluten-free labelling. In 1981 Codex established the level of gluten permitted in gluten-free products at 200mg gluten/kg or 200 parts per million (ppm): this standard was amended to only 20ppm in July last year.

The passage to full compliance for the new rules from Europe, necessary by 1 January 2012, could necessitate extra costs for manufacturers in particular in terms of re-labelling, that could reach £1000 per affected product, estimates the UK's Food Standards Agency.

The new rules ushered in earlier this year from Brussels may well incur incremental costs for bakers and snack manufacturers, but with one per cent of the UK's population potentially suffering from coeliac disease, the market for foods with the gluten sliced out holds considerable potential.

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