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Savvy Celiac: Is Gluten Free the new Yoga?

Going “mainstream” for gluten free foods may have a different meaning for everyone.  For restaurants, it may just mean putting together a  gluten free menu (regardless of education), for grocery stores it may mean putting it in the main aisles (and the employees know what you’re talking about if you ask them a question), but for me it’s all of the above and more — including a good basic public awareness on what it really means.

That could be the case if new product survey which looks ahead a few years is accurate. According to a news release for “Gluten-Free Foods and Beverages in the U.S., 3rd Edition” by market research publisher Packaged Facts, the gluten-free market is currently a $2.6 billion dollar industry.  It reports it will likely double to about $6 billion by 2015!  $6 billion is similar to the current industries of  Yoga, Halloween, and Potato Chips!  What’s more mainstream than Halloween and potato chips (well maybe not together).  But even if you look at Yoga, I think one might consider that when it started as a fitness regime in the US, it wasn’t considered mainstream and look where it is today!

Could gluten-free food be the next Yoga?

Well, that answer remains to be seen– but the survey showed, “The #1 motivation for buying gluten-free food products is that they are deemed healthier than their conventional counterparts.”  Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts is quoted in the release, “…there is evidence suggested that eliminating gluten from the diet may relieve autism in children and adult rheumatoid arthritis. Add to that the healthy ‘aura’ some consumers have attached to gluten-free products, and you create a demand for these foods and beverages that mainstream food manufacturers and retailers are increasingly happy to satisfy.”

People are buying gluten-free to treat celiac, autism or some other ailment but also as a healthy kick to their diet.  I do think the healthy gluten-free “fad”  has benefited those in the celiac world– not so much with education regarding a correct gluten-free diet, but rather in selection for foods for us.

More evidence of the “mainstreaming trend” (according to the the news release) is  “the notable shift in the retail distribution of gluten-free products from specialty stores to chains. The surge in the sales and number of dedicated gluten-free products carried by the supermarkets and mass merchandisers demonstrates that gluten-free is becoming, as one marketer interviewed by Packaged Facts in the report states, ‘just a regular grocery item.’”  I’ll believe that when I see it.  I don’t think that’s nearly the case yet.  But it the shift is true– my local Cub Foods was a prime example when they expanded their gluten-free section and put it in the mainstream section earlier this month.

Do you think it’s on its way  to being as mainstream as other $6 billion dollar industries:  Halloween, potato chips or Yoga?  Feel free to comment below!  My take?  I think we’ll know it’s mainstream when all schools get behind it as a legitimate healthy diet that people should be able to choose and that it’s worth paying for.  Many schools are coming along, but it is very far from being mainstream.

Let’s keep watching over the next few years!

This post was written by Amy Leger and posted on the Savvy Celiac. Follow her on Twitter: @AmyLeger

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