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Gluten-Free Label Becomes Secondary to Other Benefits

By Greg Gonzales

Disco didn’t really go anywhere; it inspired new forms of music, and eventually gave rise to nu-disco, a genre that blends the classic style with electronic dance music and modern rock, satisfying a larger and more diverse crowd. The same could be said for gluten-free foods. Sales growth peaked a year ago, but producers continue to launch and expand gluten-free lines, innovating them with nutritious, better-tasting ingredients that help the products compete with their gluten-containing counterparts. Though gluten-free food sales are growing at a slower pace, the brands and their fans are here to stay.

Going gluten-free is not motivated by gluten intolerance or sensitivities for most people, but a third of American consumers still purchase gluten-free products. According to the Packaged Facts July/August 2016 National Consumer Survey, 30 percent of consumers who bought gluten-free foods said they bought them for reasons other than gluten-free certification. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said the products are “generally healthier,” while 20 percent said they use the products to manage weight. Of those surveyed, nine percent of consumers said they buy gluten-free products for a household member who has celiac disease, a condition that affects only one percent of the population.

“The bottom line is, people are looking at the back of the package and being critical of what they put in their mouths,” said Barry Novick, President of Kitchen Table Bakers. “If the consumer turns the package over and the information is not there, the consumer suffers.”

Consumers seek out gluten-free, but want more than a gluten-free label. A 2013 New York Times poll found 75 percent of Americans were concerned about GMOs. A 2015 Gallup poll showed that 44 percent of Americans incorporate organic foods in their diet, too, and half of them avoid sugar. In addition, about 90 percent of those polled said they try to eat more fruits and vegetables. This lines up with Nielsen’s Global Health and Ingredient-Sentiment Survey, which found that 64 percent of respondents are avoiding or limiting consumption of specific foods or ingredients.

“Informed and savvy consumers are demanding more from the foods they eat, and some are prioritizing ingredients over brands,” said Andrew Mandzy, Director of Strategic Health and Wellness Insights at Nielsen, in the ingredient-sentiment survey report. “To many consumers, simple is beautiful, and foods with a short list of recognizable ingredients resonate strongly. Savvy manufacturers are responding to this trend by modifying product portfolios by simplifying food ingredient lists and creating natural and organic alternatives to existing offerings. Meanwhile, retailers are also prioritizing healthful foods and better-for-you brands in the center of the store, and emphasizing fresh and perishable foods around the perimeter in order to drive growth.”

Total sales for gluten-free foods this year are set to clock in at $1.328 billion, according to the Packaged Facts Gluten-Free Foods in the U.S. report. The report also said gluten-free food sales growth fell from 81 percent in 2013 and 30 percent in 2014 to 11 percent in 2015. By 2021, the report says, growth rates should end up at a steady five to six percent, with $2 billion in sales by 2020. “Sales do continue to grow, just at a slower pace,” said Mintel Senior Food and Drink Analyst Billy Roberts. “As manufacturers, large and small, enter the largely fragmented gluten-free marketplace, consumers gain an increased availability, quality and variety of options.”

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