Are you ready for the gluten-free future?

With awareness of gluten-free foods becoming increasingly apparent, is it time that speciality food retailers got involved to a larger extent?

The gluten-free sector is booming. Reports show that the UK's gluten-free market saw a 90 per cent growth between 2007 and 2012, and that gluten-free foods now represent 45 per cent of Britain's free-from market.

The sector is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 10.2% within the next five years, reaching an industry value of $6.2 billion before the end of 2018.

Now that the gluten-free sector is reaching a peak, we speak to experts across the field to learn more about the importance of gluten-free foods, the range of foods available to be stocked, and how retailers can make the most of this evolution of the fine food market.

Hamish Renton, MD of Hamish Renton Associates said, "The gluten-free market has seen exceptional growth in recent years and the UK market is now worth an approximate £180 million. Market figures suggest growth has been up +37% year-on-year and this accelerated growth has shown no signs of slowing, with the market being expected to grow by a further 46% by 2017. This growth has been largely due to more and more shoppers entering the market, as was seen recently in 2013 where 49% of gluten free buyers were new to the category. Somewhat surprisingly, it is not just sufferers from conditions such coeliac disease who are buying gluten free products as 98% of the market is actually made up of non-sufferers. This trend is often cited as a result of the public following celebrities who are encouraging a gluten-free diet as a lifestyle choice."

Norma McGough Coeliac UK Director of Policy, Research and Campaigns said, "There are gluten-free breads, flours, pastas, biscuits, crackers, cakes, pastry and other flour-based foods which make up free-from shelves in supermarkets. You can also purchase soups and ready meals labelled gluten-free. The market trends show a year-on-year consistent increase in the gluten-free market – plus there is an escalation in new gluten-free product development, with mainstream brands going gluten-free and a movement away from gluten-free being niche. Ultimately, having gluten-free food more widely available enables an individual to stick to a gluten-free diet more easily and provides greater choice.

"The quality and nutritional composition of gluten-free foods has not always been comparable to standard gluten-containing foods, as gluten is a key baking ingredient providing structure and elasticity as well as affecting keeping properties. In the absence of gluten, the secret to making fresh gluten-free bread is to increase the fat content, making it more like a cake mix but this increases the fat content. Future developments will hopefully improve both quality and nutritional composition. There’s also been a significant increase in restaurants/restaurant chains providing gluten-free menus with gluten-free pizza, pasta and bread options on the menu – and this seems a trend set to rise too."

Ellis Ward, sales and marketing director for Gluten Free Foods Ltd said, "The diagnosis of a gluten free intolerance and Coeliac Condition is easier and more effective with doctors and GPs offering the service. The treatment of a dedicated gluten-free diet is easier with the wide range of foods now available, and with the increase of the population following a gluten-free diet, the availability has increased both in retail and food service – making eating out and shopping so much easier for families to cater for. Breakfast cereals are the most popular gluten-free food, without question. Breakfast has always been described as the most important meal of the day since childhood, and our range of eight cereals are all dedicated gluten and wheat-free in addition to a choice of 14 bread and morning products. We also offer Belgian-style waffles and pretzels which are ideal for gluten-free snacking."

Ian Hills, marketing controller at Nature's Path said, "Gluten-free will continue to spread its wings and soar, not only accommodating the needs of the medically diagnosed but also assisting a growing number of healthier living types looking to simply reduce their gluten intake. I can see a time when 'free-from' will cease to sit on the naughty aisle in the corner, choosing instead to be reintegrated in and amongst the 'everyday groceries. With regards the specialist food sector I think there is greater scope to consider more artisan offerings (that own label burdened supermarkets simply haven't the space to profile. I also think that 'free-from' provides the perfect setting for organic offerings to be reconsidered – at Nature's Path we're very proud that our entire range is both gluten-free and organic."

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