Chris Hook has been involved in the gluten-free sector since 1986, first as a sales and marketing manager for a young company in Cheshire, UK, that produced gluten-free bread that was only available on prescription.
Over the past 34 years, he’s held various roles in the creative and advertising marketing industry, working on numerous nutritional accounts, as well as running his own marketing and advertising agency. He also set up his own gluten-free business called Nutrition Point, which was acquired by Italian gluten-free giant Dr. Schär in 2010.
“I’m really proud and delighted to see how a small niche category has developed over the past 30 odd years. It's amazing,” he told BakeryandSnacks.
While running a small consultancy advising young start-ups, he got an introduction to Warburtons which had ventured into the gluten-free realm in 2011.
“I was invited to get involved with them because they were struggling,” said Hook. “They were – and clearly are – really good at making good quality core bread products, bakery products, but they were really struggling with gluten free, didn’t really understand it and asked me to have a look at the products and how they were being marketed.
“It's been a really enjoyable but challenging journey; trying to weave our way through the trials and tribulations of gluten-free baking.”
Despite the progress the sector has made, Hook believes there are still some really poor quality products on the market that are conveniently labelled gluten-free but just don’t deliver from an eating and enjoyment proposition.
“I think it’s really important that we focus on delivering the best quality products, no matter what they are. I mean, it has been a massive challenge trying to produce bread that tastes as good as conventional core bakery bread … [but] I think that’s an ongoing challenge.”
Hook believes the gluten-free sector is not dissimilar to any other mainstream area, and today’s biggest challenge is answering to the growing demand for healthier products.
“You can just see the rise in demand, rightly or wrongly, for vegan options and vegan being heavily linked to free from, so I think there’s a whole area around the plant-based diet where the free from category has to step up a bit more. And, as manufacturers, we have to ask what more can we be doing?”
Listen to the BakeryandSnack Chat Podcast to find out more about Chris Hooks’ journey, as well as his impressive insight into the category and predictions for its future.