Market for gluten-free products continues to rise as sales grow

Gluten-free food producers are being urged to capitalise on a surge in export sales opportunities, notably in Britain and Spain, according to Bord Bia market analysis.

In the latest edition of the Bord Bia trade magazine Food Alert, London-based Bord Bia marketer Sarah O’Connell notes that the market for gluten-free goods in the UK is at 12 million consumers and has grown by 120% in the past five years. Citing a separate study by UK trade group Gluten-Free Solutions, she says the sales growth is coming from wheat “avoiders” as well as those with severe allergies, and those with intolerances.

“Driving this trend is a growing segment of the market choosing gluten-free as part of a lifestyle choice (as opposed to those with severe allergies and intolerances), with celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Aniston and Novac Djokovic all now promoting wheat-free and gluten-free diets,” said Sarah O’Connell.

“Another big, and often forgotten, consideration is the impact a person’s social network has on their eating out choice,” she added. “Families with a coeliac member often all eat wheat-free diets. If a family member is unable or unwilling to eat gluten, this will impact on their eating out choice. Likewise, a restaurant menu with no gluten-free offer risks losing five covers in one go.”

Ms O’Connell describes the market for gluten-free products in UK Foodservice as being “at a tipping point”. While the market need is being visibly catered for by ‘Free From’ shelves in UK retail, the foodservice sector has been largely overlooked. The fact foodservice pizza giants Domino’s and, more recently, Pizza Express have launched gluten-free offers have also made the industry take notice.

She also cites UK marketing group Horizon, who note 27% of brands on their Menurama database now have gluten-free options on the menus — an increase of 30% on three years ago. Clearly-labelled gluten-free menu offers such as that of Carluccio’s and TGI Friday’s are on the up but are still significantly in the minority.

Ms O’Connell says: “The industry consensus is moving from treating gluten- free as a purely niche area to something consumers now expect and want. Operators will need to move to align their offer with this demand if they are to avoid missing out on this lucrative growth opportunity.”

Meanwhile, Roisín O’Sullivan in Bord Bia’s Madrid office, notes there is also a growing trend towards gluten-free in Spain, and she cites McDonalds as now offering gluten-free food on their Spanish menus. The fast food chain’s burgers are served using gluten-free bread and their deluxe potatoes are fried in separate oil, making them suitable for coeliacs.

“The gluten-free market is becoming one of increasing importance for Spanish customers,” said Ms O’Sullivan. “Gluten-free goods are now widely available throughout many bakeries, online stores, supermarkets and restaurants in Spain. These products are being targeted at health conscious consumers who seek a gluten-free diet. With apps available to help consumers monitor their gluten intake, and a stamp of recognition from the Federation of Associations for Coeliacs in Spain (Face) given to restaurants and hotel chains with gluten-free products.”

However, Spanish feedback also highlights consumers’ concerns over the higher cost of gluten-free products. A 2013 report by Face found a consumer wishing to follow a gluten- free diet must spend 344% more than a consumer wishing to purchase goods with gluten. This amounts to €1,616 more each year.

Ms O’Sullivan said: “Mercadona, the retail market leader in Spain launched their gluten-free range in 2005, and were the first company to provide two types of biscuits suitable for coeliacs.Carrefour has also implemented more than 150 new gluten-free products.

“While Eroski have been recently awarded for their healthy eating campaign containing a line of goods free of gluten.”

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