Companies Expand Gluten-Free Offerings

Last Updated Mar 19, 2009 12:35 PM EDT

Gluten-free products are on a roll. The market has grown an average of 28 percent since 2004, according to a recent report by Packaged Facts, and it's now a $1.5-billion-a-year industry. Hundreds of new gluten-free products appeared on the shelves last year, and Packaged Facts expects double-digit growth to continue.

"Americans have a lot of health problems, limited access to health care, and a culture that drives them to resolve those problems themselves," the report said. "This has led to an explosion of interest in the benefits of a gluten-free diet."

Companies are offering new products across all sorts of food genres. There are gluten-free tortillas. General Mills made Rice Chex gluten-free last year, at least one chain offers gluten-free pizza, and Anheuser-Busch even offers a gluten-free beer.

There are numerous, possibly tenuous links between gluten and a range of illnesses from repetitive strain injury to attention deficit disorder, but the big one is celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder directly related to gluten protein. Only 40,000 to 60,000 people have been officially diagnosed with the disease, but apparently there could be as many as 3 million running around undiagnosed.

And when Applegate Farms introduced its gluten-free chicken nuggets this week, CEO Steve McDonnell said that gluten intolerance affects an even wider segment of the population. "An estimated 1 in 7 people is considered non-celiac gluten sensitive, or sensitive to gluten although they don't test positive for the disease," he said.

As companies continue developing new gluten-free products and converting existing products to gluten-free, Packaged Facts predicts gluten-free sales will reach $2.6 billion a year by 2012.

  • Katherine Glover