GFIA's founding members include Warburtons, Genius Foods, Mrs Crimbles, Nairns Oatcakes, Bells of Lazonby, BFree Foods, Delicious Alchemy and Dr Schar.
A statement issued by the trade group said the top priorities for 2017 would be developing best practice guidelines on ingredient sourcing and gluten-testing methodology.
Founder of OF+ Consulting and GFIA chair Simon Wright told FoodNavigator it has not yet been decided whether these materials would be available to non-
members, but that this would be under discussion.
“GFIA members will have financed the work so it is right they should maintain the benefits. However we are aware that others in the sector - particularly smaller companies- would also benefit from such best-practice advice, as we all work to deliver high quality products to the consumer," he said, adding that GFIA may consider working with other international gluten-free trade groups.
However, it has no plans to begin its own gluten-free certification, which will continue to be carried out by national charityCoeliac UK. “[It] already has a well-respected scheme with a recognised logo which consumers look for on-pack,” said Wright, who has previously held positions at Leatherhead Food Research and Green & Blacks.
The announcement was welcomed by Coeliac UK's chief executive Sarah Sleet, as a sign of “the maturation of the gluten free sector”.
She said the association would help industry work together to tackle consistency and safety for the benefit of consumers and keep growing the new market. Coeliac UK's website contains a food and drink directory with 15,000 processed and packaged foods that are suitable for coeliac sufferers.
The UK’s gluten-free market is the most lucrative segment of the free-from category, accounting for 60% of all free-from foods and enjoying a 36% increase during 2015, according to Mintel data published last year.
It is also top in Europe for gluten-free foods with sales hitting £365 million (€426m) last year, while sales in Italy were worth £250m (€292m) and £54m (€63m) in Germany.
Challenges come with success
Wright said the association would work to address the challenges that have come as a result of its own success.
“The rapid growth of the sector has led to a lot of new product development in a very short time and the need to set up new supply chains. We aim to provide GFIA members with resources and a network to help them address these challenges. The GFIA hopes to overcome these challenges through discussion, co-operation and collaboration.”
A spokesperson for Nairn's Oatcakes said: "As many of the ingredients are sourced from abroad it is likely we will look to other bodies for advice [and] support. We want to ensure consistency across the GF supply base in the UK, and to engender real confidence in the integrity and quality of our products."
GFIA is a full member of the UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which will provide GFIA’s secretariat. Last year FDF published a best practice guide for gluten-free manufacturers, drawn up in collaboration with Coeliac UK, the Anaphylaxis Campaign and the British Retail Consortium.
Europe’s gluten-free food manufacturers came out in force at last year’s SIAL in Paris, with firms winning innovation awards for gluten-free pastas made from black and white quinoa, yellow lentils, chickpeas or corn.