Gluten-Free: Hot and Bogus

How can it be that Americans are simultaneously growing more enamored with gluten-free foods and more skeptical about them? As contradictory as that sounds, it describes the state of consumer perceptions about this hot, sketchy category.

Between 2013 and 2015, the category has grown by 136%, now generating $11.6 billion in sales. Gluten-free foods account for 6.5% of all foods sold in 2015, up from just 2.8% in 2013. Consumers who buy them are overwhelmingly satisfied with them — 90% say that they like the options they have and 26% are quite happy to pay a premium for them. They don’t necessarily avoid gluten because they can’t tolerate it. Roughly 37% say they think it’s better for their health, another 16% say “gluten is bad for you,” and 11% had a healthcare professional advise them to cut gluten from their diets.

(Somewhere in these statistics, there’s plenty of room for 0.71% of the population that actually has celiac disease, enjoying a windfall of choices.)

And yet, almost half of consumers think this trend is simply a fad. Up from 31% in 2013, now 47% of consumers doubt that gluten-free foods have any real value. Senior Food Analyst Amanda Topper of Mintel explains:

While some consumers view the gluten-free diet as a fad and are looking for improved nutrition and ingredients in gluten-free foods, consumption continues to trend upward. Large and small manufacturers are entering the gluten-free category, increasing the availability, quality and variety of gluten-free foods while Americans display interest in incorporating these foods into their diet.

Who knows? Maybe a year from now we’ll all be on a gluten-free regime and Donald Trump will be President. Then again, maybe not.

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Gluten-Free, photograph © Receitasparatodososdias / flickr

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December 9, 2015