Anyone who thinks the gluten-free market has peaked needs to think again. According to a December 2018 report from Zion Market Research, the global gluten-free product market was valued at around $4.72 billion in 2017. By 2024, that value is expected to nearly double to reach $7.6 billion.
The key to this growth is inclusion, says Chris Rich, vice president of marketing and development, Gluten Intolerance Group, Auburn, WA. “The alienation felt in the past by those living gluten-free is diminishing today due to the increase in gluten-free products. Not only is the trend of inclusion good for consumers, but it also brings opportunities for more revenue. When a family with one gluten-free member purchases products to prepare meals, they will often buy such products for the entire family.”
And this sustained interest isn’t necessarily a result of more diagnoses of celiac disease, suggests Joel Warady, general manager and chief sales and marketing officer, Enjoy Life Foods, Chicago. “One of the trends that drives demand in this market is the growing number of people with digestive and autoimmune issues. Studies have shown overlap in diagnoses for people with celiac disease and IBS, but there are millions of people who may not be celiac that experience IBS.”
Because of this, Warady explains, more consumers are turning to a gluten-free diet to ease their symptoms. And this is good news for the market. “The market itself has become incredibly competitive, with many different brands emerging in the space. This competition forces brands to widen their audience targets, expand upon their innovations and, most importantly, create more food options for gluten-free consumers who have not yet had the luxury of variety.”
Product categories driving demand share one thing in common: convenience. According to Michael Smulders, president and founder, Bakery on Main, East Hartford, CT, the snack category is on fire, thanks to “the trend of millennials looking for fast, on-the-go mini-meals.”
In 2018, Enjoy Life Foods launched Breakfast Ovals, an allergy-friendly “morning-starter” made with four types of gluten-free oats (steel cut oats, rolled oats, oat flakes and oat flour). “These biscuits are designed to deliver simplicity during hectic mornings, are loaded with over 20 grams of whole grains per serving and are a good source of fiber,” Warady explains.
According to Charlie Pace, CEO, Smart Flour, Austin, TX, convenience is also behind growing interest in better-for-you gluten-free frozen foods and snacks. “This is being driven by consumers, especially millennials, who want convenience but won’t sacrifice taste or nutrition.” Specifically, he expects interest to grow in gluten-free and better-for-you frozen pizzas. “What people want from their pizza is evolving,” he says. “With today’s savvy, health-conscious consumers placing extra care into the food choices they make, a long list of unpronounceable ingredients just won’t cut it anymore.” Instead, companies must offer the nutritional benefits of fresh food in their frozen products.
Smart Flour has developed a line of frozen pizzas made with gluten-free, non-GMO crusts based on sorghum, amaranth and teff. In 2019, the brand will launch two new varieties: Three Meat (Italian sausage, bacon and uncured pepperoni) and Kale and Sundried Tomato with Garlic White Bean Sauce.
Ancient grains have become a popular choice for gluten-free snacks and baked goods. “Ancient grains are a great way to introduce gluten-free sources of protein and fiber,” says Mark Stavro, senior director of marketing, Bunge North America, Chesterfield, MO. Bunge offers ancient grains in formats like flours, meals, grits and extrusions. “Additionally, Bunge is the first and only supplier to offer sorghum masa, allowing food manufacturers to add this increasingly popular ancient grain to all types of tortilla applications.”
Bradford Warner, vice president of marketing, Firebird Artisan Mills, Leawood, KS, calls ancient grains the “new staples,” capable of replacing first-generation ingredients like rice, corn and potato. “If the first generation of gluten-free product development was offering a product that was reasonably similar but without gluten,” he says. “The emerging second generation can offer better nutrition, flavor potential and even coloration.”
Quinoa and sorghum deliver protein and fiber, while buckwheat carries similar protein to quinoa but even more fiber—and is more affordable. Grains like buckwheat and pulses like red lentils and beans can also add colorful appeal, says Mike Hallman, vice president of sales, Firebird Artisan Mills. Some ancient grains can also add nutty flavors.
Buckwheat, sorghum, teff, quinoa and pulses work well in crackers, chips, pretzels and extruded snacks, notes Warner. “Buckwheat works brilliantly in breakfast applications. Teff is perfect for flatbreads and wraps. Pulses can replace corn in a variety of snacks.”
Ingredients like pea protein isolate are also trending in popularity, says Kathy Lewis, senior research and development scientist, Ardent Mills, Denver. “Pulse-based flours made from chickpea, lentil and pea are increasing in popularity.” They boast about twice the protein of cereal grains, and are well-suited to a variety of applications from breads and cakes to crackers.
Ever since the introduction of almond flour in 2015, Blue Diamond Global Ingredients Division, Sacramento, CA, has experienced a steady rise in demand, says Jeff Smith, director of marketing. It offers sweet taste and a protein-rich nutrient profile, and vitamin E, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Almond flour is flexible, appropriate for breads, muffins, cookies, bars and crackers. “While traditional baked goods may become dry and stale in a day or two, those prepared with almond flour stay moist for days,” says Smith. To boost protein levels, Blue Diamond also offers Almond Protein Powder.
High-protein meat ingredients are gaining ground in gluten-free bars. “Many protein products are made with soy or whey, which some consumers choose not to or can’t eat,” explains Stephanie Lynch, vice president of sales, marketing and technology, International Dehydrated Foods, Inc., Springfield, MO. Chicken protein also aligns with diet trends like keto and Paleo. The company’s new hydrolyzed CHiKPRO broth protein isolate delivers a complete amino acid profile.
“Consumers today are more cognizant about their health than in the past,” says Rich. “There is growing research and awareness around the more than 300 symptoms of celiac disease, and more people are making beneficial health-related connections to gluten-free products.”