Innova: Global surge in gluten free new product activity

The number of products marketed as gluten-free is continuing to rise globally, with a further double-digit growth recorded in 2009 to take the total number recorded on the Innova Database to more than double the level in 2007.

This is partly due to improved labelling regulations, but also to rising health concerns and awareness of gluten intolerance in the diet and the search for more mainstream and good-tasting gluten-free products across a range of food and drinks sectors.

Overall, over 5% of the food and drinks launches tracked by Innova Market Insights in 2009 were marketed as gluten-free, rising to over 10% in Australia and New Zealand and falling to less than 1% in Asia.  There were higher launch numbers in the US and Europe, but these largely reflected higher levels of food and drink new product activity as a whole.

In the UK, interest has also been driven by the major multiple retailers, most of whom have their own Free-from products, which encompass other concepts such as lactose-free and dairy-free, as well as gluten-free lines. In 2009, Sainsbury, Tesco and Waitrose all extended their gluten-free ranges across a number of sectors including bakery and cereal products, sauces, pizza and meat products. Branded initiatives over the same period have featured specialist suppliers, such as Mrs Crimbles gluten-free bakery lines, as well as gluten-free products from mainstream suppliers, such as Youngs Seafood’s launch of its first free-from/gluten-free fish finger with a wheat-, gluten- and dairy-free crumb coating.

This combination of specialist dietetic brands and newer more-mainstream-style products has also been evident in Continental Europe, with launches such as Glutano Landtaler Digestives digestive biscuits and DS Sandwich frozen bread in Germany, Clarelia ambient ready meals in France and Tonitto Zero 30 ice cream in Italy.

In the US, there has also been a large number of product launches recorded by Innova Market Insights, with the increasing market penetration reflected in a higher number of value-added products offering additional benefits and no longer simply reliant on a specialist gluten-free image. This has again been evident across a number of sectors, with launches in recent months including Organic Gluten Free Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich Cookies from Oregon Ice Cream Company to run alongside its standard ice cream sandwich range; frozen all-natural rice-based pasta meals from Caesars Pasta Products; and Activ8 organic probiotic snack bars from Cascade Fresh. Perhaps even more telling was the arrival of the first nationally branded gluten-free bakery mixes in the US market from none other than bakery mixes market leader Betty Crocker from General Mills.

The US has probably the largest gluten-free foods market globally, with estimates of sales at over US$1.5bn a year in an overall free-from market worth over US$3bn. Most European markets are much smaller, reflecting not only smaller populations overall, but also much less developed processed food markets in many instances. The UK market, for example, while relatively well developed in European terms, is estimated at less than GB£100m a year, with the retail market accounting for just over half of that and the prescription market taking most of the remainder. It has been showing double-digit growth in recent years, however, as have the markets in countries such as France and Italy. 

It has been suggested that up to 10% of the population have some form of gluten intolerance, according to Innova Market Insight’s Head of Research Lu Ann Williams, although it remains mostly undiagnosed, while estimates of levels of Coeliac disease range from about 1 in 100 to 1 in 300 of the population according to country and source.

“Gluten intolerance is not the only reason for buying gluten-free foods,” she also contends, with issues such as overall wellbeing, digestive health, weight management and nutritional value often deemed to be equally if not more important by consumers: “With this background, more labelling of gluten-free foods and the growing availability of a range of high quality products with a good sensory profile, the market seems set for considerable further development in line with the free-from market as a whole.”