Weak Spots in the Gluten-Free Trend

February 11, 2015

Will the bottom fall out of the gluten-free market if science doesn't match the perception?

There’s enough gluten-free demand to fuel market growth for at least the next decade-but that is assuming that gluten-free can sidestep some inherent challenges, according to one market researcher. Already, the global gluten-free food market may reach $3.91 billion by the end of this year, according to Visiongain (London, UK). But caution: although Visiongain anticipates the size of the market to double in the next ten years, that growth may not always remain steady, for a number of reasons.

“There is a sign that market growth will start to slow down gradually around 2025,” says Ju-Ling Yuan, food technology industry analyst, Visiongain. “Nevertheless it will remain a lucrative market. Better product positioning can help food manufacturers avoid potential market risks.”

Perhaps the greatest vulnerability for the gluten-free foods market is what Yuan refers to as the “fad component.” Although the number of people suffering from celiac disease or gluten intolerance is on the rise, the recent boom in the gluten-free market is also driven by more general consumers who may just be following the latest health trend.

Considering that there is a lack of current science to prove that gluten-free foods are actually healthier for general consumers than gluten-containing counterparts, Visiongain questions how long this trend can survive should consumers start seeking hard evidence.

“One of the worrying downside risks behind the growing market is the lack of scientific evidence to say that gluten-free foods are generally healthier,” says Yuan. “In other words, the future market may not be sustainable if science invalidates the perception.”

What’s more, those leading a gluten-free lifestyle without medical reasons may be putting themselves at a disadvantage. Essential vitamins and nutrients such as iron, calcium, thiamin, and others may be more difficult to come by in a gluten-free diet, according to an article by the Mayo Clinic.

Another Achilles’ heel for the market could be the prevalence of gluten-free labeling on products that are inherently lacking in gluten anyway. Over time, this sort of advertising risks eroding the meaning of the term gluten-free. Although this practice is allowed in the United States, which is “the largest gluten-free market in the world,” other parts of the world, including Europe, have regulations to prevent this kind of misleading advertising, says Yuan.

As of August 2014, FDA regulations require that any products called “gluten-free” must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. Yuan believes these regulations will help “maintain the integrity of the future gluten-free market,” but will not immediately impact the market for good or for ill. He reasons this may be because many gluten-free products on the market already have more stringent third-party certifications, and because many consumers of gluten-free food do not suffer from celiac disease.

The entire Visiongain report, called The Gluten-Free Foods Market Forecast 2015-2025, is 133 pages long, contains interview from key industry leaders, and details worldwide forecasts and analysis. To order the report, email miriam.zatkova@vgreports.com.

 

Read more:

FDA Finds Gluten in Presumably Gluten-Free Products

 

Michael Crane
Associate Editor
Nutritional Outlook magazine
michael.crane@ubm.com

 

Photo © iStockphoto.com/marekuliasz

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