2021 has brought with it some good news: the world’s best-known cookie has finally launched its gluten-free variants and by most initial accounts, they’re pretty good and taste just like the original. These variants are made from white rice and whole oat flour instead of the usual wheat flour, giving people with gluten sensitivities and celiac disease the chance to find out what all the fuss is about.
The rise and rise of gluten-free
The launch of OREO's gluten-free versions is just another reminder of how important this claim has become. The gluten-free claim’s growth has been nothing short of meteoric, with consumer interest nearly quadrupling over the last decade, according to Spoonshot, which analyzes millions of data points across 22 data types and over 28,000 data sources to track the growth of such trends.
Gluten-free was once a niche claim aimed at people with celiac disease or gluten allergies, who had to shop at specialist stores to get products and ingredients suitable for their needs. Over the years, spikes in interest for gluten-free has coincided with consumers aligning themselves with a number of changing eating practices, including healthy eating, clean eating, and the rising popularity of grain-free/low carb diets like paleo and keto.
Even though gluten is not necessarily unhealthy or artificial, consumers often do perceive these to be true. Spoonshot’s analysis of social media conversations found that gluten-free is among the top 10 topics of conversation, and among people talking about gluten-free, a fair share of posts had pretty close associations to health and wellness.
The result: gluten-free is now a mainstream feature, holding its place as one of the leading claims in retail. Spoonshot’s data shows that around 10 percent of food and drink launches call out their gluten-free credentials on pack. We’ve also categorized gluten-free claims among launches by product category, as can be seen in the graph below.
An interesting fact is that the bulk of products highlighting gluten-free are traditionally ones that don’t tend to have gluten in the first place. For example, 13 percent of overall dairy products carry a gluten-free claim, even though grains are not a major ingredient in this category. Categories where gluten-based ingredients play a pivotal role in the cooking process, like bakery and biscuits/cookies, the share of gluten-free products is lower (at 6 percent and 8 percent, respectively).
The relatively low share of gluten-free baked goods, along with the excitement over the Oreo launch, shows us there is tremendous potential for more baked goods that are gluten-free. We’re only going to see more of these products in retail in the coming years as gluten-free flours and mixes become more widespread and easier to use.
Gluten-free bakery products often have a reputation of not having a great taste or texture, so we will also see blends of different flours that help to improve these aspects.
Another point that will drive the growth of alternative flours is the growing interest in baking. Last year, home baking saw a bit of revival as the pandemic forced people to stay at home. Scratch baking had been losing some of its sheen since after the 2008 recession, a time when scratch cooking had grown significantly as consumers looked to curb their spending. Over the last five years, there has been easier access to readymade foods and food delivery services have exploded.
During the initial months, baking became such a popular activity that there were actually flour shortages, forcing people to use whatever they could get their hands on, including gluten-free flours. Our data, for example, shows that consumer interest in almond flour has grown by 102 percent in the US since 2019.
Even in the coming year, this newly renewed interest in home baking will continue to grow, by around 8 percent, as per our projections. The main go-to flour options for gluten-free baking have been almond or coconut flours, mainly because these are also sought after by consumers following keto, paleo, or low-carb diets. As consumers become more familiar with baking, their interest in experimenting with gluten-free flours will also grow, though not everyone may find the same appeal in nut-based flours, which are quite expensive and also common allergens.
As such, there are numerous emerging options for alternative or gluten-free flours that could grow the space of not just “flourless” baked foods, but also foods like pasta. A few of these alt flours to watch out for include the following:
- Jackfruit flour: Can be used to make gluten-free cookies and biscuits and added to regular flour to make breads and cakes. This flour is said to have a low glycemic index and significantly lower blood sugar levels.
- Breadfruit flour: Very similar to jackfruit, breadfruit is a fruit that is a staple of tropical regions, valued for its high nutritional quality and complex carbohydrates. Recent studies have even indicated that breadfruit could help improve the health of populations if it were to replace wheat. Its flour can be used to make bread and recently has even been made into gluten-free pasta.
- Okara flour: This product is harvested from the pulpy byproducts of soy milk or tofu production. Wet okara is first dried and then ground into a fine, shelf-stable flour that can be used to make baked goods.
- Amaranth flour: This flour can be used to make bread, cake, and pasta among others. It is high in fiber, protein, and a number of micronutrients. There is some indication that it could help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Coffee cherry flour: Dried coffee cherry flour is extremely versatile and can be incorporated into a range of baked goods, including cakes, cookies, tortillas. The flour is high in dietary fiber, antioxidants, and micronutrients.
- Orange byproduct flour: Researchers have developed a flour from orange peels and parts left over from juice production called orange byproduct flour (OBPF). Orange peel and pomace are said to be much richer in dietary fiber, phenolic compounds, and antioxidants than the fruit. This flour has been used to make cookies, replacing wheat flour, without any significant influence on the properties of the cookies.
As the consumer demand for gluten-free grows, we expect to see many more ingredients being experimented with to get the right taste and texture that can be enjoyed by anyone with any reason to avoid gluten.