Packaged Facts’ survey Gluten-Free Foods in the US, 5th Edition found 37% of people considered the ability to find gluten- and wheat-free items at the grocery store 'important'. An additional 13% said it was 'very important' to have gluten- or wheat-free items, while 9% completely avoided gluten. This marks 59% of people who are either aware of gluten or actively avoiding it, according to the report.
One-quarter of consumers said the 'superior healthfulness' of gluten-free foods was one of the main reasons for their purchase.
Snacking minus the gluten
Packaged Facts found the gluten-free boom, in particular, has been a huge boost to snacks, such as tortilla chips. The survey indicated 61% of gluten-free sales are salty snacks.
David Sprinkle, research director of Packaged Facts, said: "Even those who are not gluten-sensitive are attracted to gluten-free salty snacks because they seem to add another check mark to the list of perceived requirements for better-for-you salty snacks."
Howard Waxman, market research analyst at Packaged Facts and writer of the report, added: “The gluten-free snacks are often in that good-for-you, or at least the better-for-you snack category.”
Asked if buying more salty snacks was a contradiction to greater health, he told BakeryandSnacks.com that if salty snacks were classified as not healthy or nutritious, it certainly was a contradiction. However, he said people now trended toward snacking throughout the day with items that were "healthier than ever".
Quick facts on celiac disease
Quick facts on celiac disease
According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness:
- Celiac is a genetic autoimmune disease. It impacts the villi of the small intestine and hinders the ability to absorb nutrients
- 1 in 133 Americans have celiac disease
- 6-10 years old is the average age for a person to be correctly diagnosed with celiac
- A gluten-free diet is the only known cure currently
- Medically, people with undiagnosed celiac will cost nearly $4,000 more than those who are healthy
Growth? 'There is still innovation opportunity'
Waxman said there has been a flood of gluten-free food items from both mainstream manufacturers and companies specializing in gluten-free products and the market would be sustained by the number of those diagnosed with celiac disease, as well as 'free-from' customers, or those looking to avoid allergens and anything else that may harm their health.
Late last year, Mintel pegged the gluten-free market at $8.8 billion in 2014, up 63% from 2012. Amanda Topper, food analyst at Mintel, said gluten-free would continue to grow as there is still plenty of innovation opportunity in the market, especially concerning items containing gluten that have not yet been produced as gluten-free.
“The category will continue to grow in the near term, especially as FDA regulations make it easier for consumers to purchase gluten-free products and trust the manufacturers who make them,” Topper said.
“Despite strong growth over the last few years, there is still innovation opportunity, especially in food segments that typically contain gluten.”
Is gluten-free really the way to go?
Even so, the growth of gluten-free items has meant the growth of skepticism as well. Mintel noted that 44% of Americans thought gluten-free diets were a fad, up from 33% the year prior.
A report from NSF International also noted that while approximately 90% of people have heard of gluten, 54% could not correctly define it.
BakeryandSnacks.com reported earlier this month that The George Institute for Global Health said a gluten-free diet is not likely any healthier than one containing gluten.