Despite skepticism of gluten-free diets, Americans are consuming gluten-free foods more than ever before.
New research from Mintel reveals that nearly half (47%) of consumers agree that gluten-free diets are a fad, compared to 31% in 2013. What’s more, one quarter (25%) of consumers report that they consume gluten-free foods, a 67% increase from 2013.
A testament to innovation in the category, Mintel research shows that some 90% of gluten-free food consumers are satisfied with available gluten-free food options, and 35% agree that the quality of gluten-free foods is higher than before. So much so that some Americans are willing to pay a premium for gluten-free options, including 26% of consumers who agree that gluten-free foods are worth their added cost.
When looking at the reasons why consumers gravitate toward gluten-free foods – aside from a gluten intolerance or sensitivity—Mintel research shows that consumers perceive foods with any free-from claim to be both healthier and less processed. Likewise, growth of gluten-free foods is driven by health concerns, with 37% of consumers reporting that they eat gluten-free foods because it’s better for their overall health and 16% doing so because “gluten is bad for you.” Another 11% of consumers eat gluten-free foods because a healthcare professional suggested they eliminate gluten from their diet.
Despite linking gluten-free foods to health, consumers who eat these foods for weight loss dropped from 25% to 19% 2014-2015, suggesting that consumers are more likely to view gluten-free products as a contributing factor to their overall well-being than simply as a weight loss tool. This is evidenced by the 23% of consumers who report that they only incorporate gluten-free foods into their diet some of the time.
Skeptical attitudes toward gluten-free diets have done nothing to hinder sales of gluten-free foods, as the category has experienced growth of 136% from 2013-2015, reaching estimated sales of $11.6 billion in 2015.
With over one quarter (27%) of gluten-free food consumers looking for gluten-free labels on food packaging, gluten-free food sales exploded from 2.8% of total food sales in 2013 to 6.5% in 2015.
However, trust in gluten-free product claims has slightly decreased, with 45% of consumers trusting that products bearing a gluten-free claim are actually gluten-free, down from 48% in 2014. Another 45% of consumers agree manufacturers should not label products as gluten-free if they never contained gluten in the first place.
“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,” said Amanda Topper, senior food analyst at Mintel. “However, since trust toward manufacturers’ labeling of gluten-free foods has slightly waned, they should consider providing messaging about the steps taken to ensure their products are gluten-free to reassure consumers. Americans have come to expect brands and products to be transparent and trust that the items they purchase are as advertised.”
Gluten-free foods create competition in restaurants
When dining out, nearly three in 10 (28%) consumers with celiac disease are less strict about eating gluten-free foods compared to eating at home. According to Mintel Menu Insights, a quarterly census of US foodservice venues, restaurants are expanding their gluten-free options to target these consumers: gluten-free as an ingredient claim on menus grew 127% from Q2 2012-Q2 2015 and is now the top nutritional ingredient claim.
Some 10% of U.S. restaurants tracked by Mintel Menu Insights feature a gluten-free menu, appealing to the 22% of gluten-free food consumers who are more likely to visit restaurants that have a specific gluten-free menu.
Mintel Menu Insights also found that the number of items on gluten-free menus grew 9% from Q2 2012-Q2 2015, with gluten-free as a dish claim growing by 24% over that same period, making gluten-free the top menu item claim.
“While finding gluten-free foods away from home can prove difficult for gluten-free food consumers, there has been growth in gluten-free restaurant options as gluten-free diets have become more popular. In the past, it may not have been feasible for celiacs and gluten-free food consumers overall to find these foods at restaurants. Moving forward, there should be more expansive gluten-free menu offerings as the foodservice industry competes with retail for the rising number of gluten-free Americans,” concluded Topper.