A few decades ago, gluten-free products mostly meant rice cakes. Today, the category just won’t quit.
Even industry analysts have been surprised at the strength of the gluten-free claim, said Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at Datamonitor Consumer, which tracks the introduction of new products into the U.S. market.
So far this year, more than 18% of the new food products put into stores make a gluten-free claim, the firm said. That’s compared with 11.5% in 2012 and 11.7% in 2011.
Many of the more recent new products are in the snack-food category, Vierhile said.
Anyone who goes to the supermarket knows about that: Many stores have entire sections set aside for dozens of crackers, cookies, baking mixes, pretzels and chips made with flours that don’t contain wheat, such as corn, rice or chickpeas.
A recent expo held in Pasadena by the Celiac Disease Foundation was jammed with people interested in trying new foods.
It’s estimated that about a third of Americans are trying to avoid gluten -- some to manage the serious disease called celiac, some for less serious allergies or intolerance and some because going gluten-free has become something of a fad.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
Vierhile found this interesting information for us: From Jan. 1, 2012, to May 14 of this year, the top five categories with new products making the gluten-free claim and the number of new products, including various flavors and sizes were: cereal bars (297); savory snacks (272); potato chips (162); chocolate (149) and sugar confections, such as hard candies (143).
Skeptics might ask why hard candy or potato chips need to put a gluten-free label on their products, but it turns out there’s a reason that really matters to people who have celiac disease. They can be sickened by eating something that’s made in the same facility with gluten-containing products.
The federal government is soon to issue a definition of gluten-free that would likely mean a product could have no more than 20 parts per million of gluten, but for now there are private certification companies that issue a seal.
“There is probably an upper limit to the market for gluten-free, but it isn’t clear that this limit has been reached yet,” Vierhile said.