According to the Gluten Intolerance Group's (GIG) COO Channon Quinn, 2014 and 2015 marked the peak of gluten-free foods trying to make their mark.
Quinn predicts the market will plateau within the next five years, as fad dieters trail off and truly gluten-intolerant consumers demand higher quality products over ‘massive options.’
“The market initially started out of a medical necessity and then people started going gluten-free because their favorite celebrity was, or because they thought it was cool or thought they would lose weight, and so, as a result, the market spiked,” she told BakeryandSnacks.
“People aren’t going to buy something that doesn’t taste good, especially if they have to eat it.”
Fad dieters tend to reach for “whatever is cheapest or whatever tastes the best,” she added, sometimes trying products that are not gluten-free but might be inherently low in gluten.
About 40% of consumers choose gluten-free foods for health reasons, according to a 2014 Mintel report, with a quarter believing they led to weight loss (despite a lack of evidence to its effect). By 2015, the percentage of consumers believing in the healthiness of a gluten-free diet fell to 37%.
Still, about a quarter of US consumers are willing to pay more for gluten-free foods. Sales jumped 136% from 2013 to 2015, per Mintel, but trust in the offerings declined: Less than half of consumers trust that gluten-free claims are accurate.
Quinn said rising attention from fad dieters and celebrities opened the door for subpar products. however, some large companies have invested in high-quality brands, she noted, leading below-average brands to ‘fizzle out.’
“They’re going to have to step up, or if they don’t, they’re not going to make it in the market.”
Making it official
In 2009, the Gluten Intolerance Group developed strict certification program to denote gluten-free foods with a trustworthy label. The program - recognized by the encircled GF symbol - now certifies more than 53,000 products.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) followed suit in 2013, ruling that products must meet a defined standard for gluten content to use the words ‘gluten-free’ on the label.
Under the FDA’s guidelines, such products must contain no more than 20 parts-per-million (ppm) of gluten. Quinn said GIG’s program requires under 10 ppm. It also runs through a third-party auditor, meaning facilities producing GF-certified foods are more intensely monitored than through the FDA.
“The certification itself really matters – and the fact that we are a 3rd party certification, that it’s voluntary, and we are twice as strict as the FDA – really puts that clout in for the companies that decide to use us,” said Quinn.
Increasingly more companies come to GIG because “they want consumers to feel comfortable eating their products.
“As the gluten-free trend has grown, I think that we have seen more exhibitors seeking us out because those are really who we’re here to talk to,” she added.
“Retailers are great, we have all kinds of resources for them, but really it’s the exhibitors that we want to talk to, and they come find us now.”