Gluten-free is more than a trend; it’s a way of life for millions of Americans, with an increasing number of products carrying gluten-free claims. The landscape of what gluten-free options are available continues to expand, although companies must be mindful of the challenges in product development and regulatory oversight before embarking on the journey.
“Much like veganism and flexitarianism or going low-carb or dairy-free, avoiding gluten has become a true lifestyle choice for many Americans," said David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts. “These consumers may not have a specific health-related motive necessitating the switch to gluten-free. Yet for gluten-free advocates there’s often a satisfaction from furthering one’s overall health and nutrition goals."
According to the “Gluten-Free Foods in the U.S. 6th Edition" report, dedicated gluten-free dieters have helped the gluten-free foods market demonstrate an annual growth rate of 36% over the 5-year period ended in 2015, when the market reached $1.6 billion. Packaged Facts forecasts the gluten-free foods market will reach $2 billion in 2020.
Gluten-free foods are gaining popularity partly because manufacturers and marketers are aligning new product developments with other emerging trends in the food and beverage industry. These trends include clean labels, marketer transparency, and the use of plant proteins and ancient grains.
The desire for clean labels, ease of digestion, the need or desire to avoid allergens, compatibility with vegetarian and vegan lifestyles and concerns about sustainability among the general population are putting the spotlight on plant proteins. Legumes and beans, or pulses, are found in a growing array of gluten-free foods, along with ancient and sprouted grains.
Pulse-based ingredients are particularly valuable in improving the nutrient quality of gluten-free products, as they are richer in fiber, protein and micronutrients than gluten-free staples rice and tapioca flour. There is a growing market for these ingredients in gluten-free extruded snacks and pasta. (Read more about the United Nations declaring 2016 the International Year of Pulse.)
The appeal of ancient and sprouted grains is much like that of pulses. For food processors, these ingredients provide whole food, plant-based protein sources that enhance appearance, deliver unique tastes and textures, pack a nutritional punch, and invite variety and innovation. A number of ancient grains are gluten-free, as are sprouted ingredients made from gluten-free ancient grains, nuts, seeds and beans.
A predominant trend in gluten-free product development reflects the concerns of the clean eating/clean-label movement, e.g., fewer and simpler ingredients; free-from formulations; minimally processed with organic, sustainable production methods; and transparency in business practices. (Demand for products formulated with clean-label ingredients was evident by the interest in the inaugural Clean-Label Summit as well as a host of ingredients debuted at SupplySide West 2016.)
Makers of gluten-free bean pasta are standouts in the promise of fewer and simpler ingredients, an attribute that is touted on product packages and on brand websites from the likes of Tolerant Foods, Gold Harbor, Simply 7 Snacks and Explore Cuisine.
One of the most notable examples is Quinn Snacks, which has staked out a pioneering position when it comes to transparency about the origins of the ingredients it uses. The company, which offers a line of organic snacks that include microwave popcorn, popped popcorn, popcorn kernels for home popping, and pretzels, includes a Farm-To-Bag page on its website. The company states that “Farm-to-Bag was created with the idea that transparency is the most powerful force for good in food. Quinn Snacks asserts that its Gluten-Free Pretzels is the first of its kind to be whole grain, ancient grain, corn-free, soy-free, dairy-free and Non-GMO Project verified with full ingredient transparency.
Download INSIDER's “Gluten-Free Product Formulation to Meet Consumer Demands" Digital Magazine to find out how consumers are being rewarded with a wider variety of options with great taste, thanks to innovative ingredients and formulation guidance.