Gluten Free Is Serious Business

July 10, 2013

chexThe gluten-free craze continues to gain steam and it’s not just the fact that confirmed cases of celiac disease continue to rise.

An article in Monday’s Star Tribune questioned whether it is dangerous to choose a gluten-free diet unless you’re required to do so. The story mentions that approximately 1 percent of Americans have celiac disease and about 6 percent are considered gluten sensitive. But many more are self-diagnosing, and others are choosing to eliminate wheat, barley and rye — mainly as a trendy diet option.

Whatever the case, gluten-free food is big business. U.S. sales of items labeled gluten-free reached nearly $20 billion in the past year, topping revenue for items identified as cholesterol-free, multigrain or high-fiber, according to a recent Bloomberg article. And while nutritionists continue to be bothered when they hear of celebrities promoting a gluten-free diet for weight-loss purposes, I say the more the merrier.

As part of the 1 percent without a choice, I’m just happy to see more companies catering to gluten-free eaters. Just a few years ago, you needed to search for gluten-free options in specialty stores/sections and very few restaurants actually had a gluten-free menu. That’s no longer the case. Every time I go to the grocery store, there are new products popping up and they are labeled better than ever. And even fast food chains like Dunkin’ Donuts and Domino’s are generating buzz and business with gluten-free items.

Some big brands are even building their marketing campaigns on a gluten-free platform. A great example is Chex cereal. There’s a “gluten-free” call out on the front of the box and love notes from consumers with celiac on the back. The website and Facebook page are splashed with gluten-free recipes and information. They have partnered with the Celiac Disease Foundation. They’ve gone all in. Sales are up. And they got me. I have three different flavors in my pantry at all times, but I never would have tried Chex if it wasn’t labeled gluten-free. It’s a smart marketing move and one I suspect didn’t take much modification, if any, for the product itself.

Here’s hoping brands continue to see the opportunity and jump on board.