Mintel: gluten-free sector booms in US but intolerances under diagnosed

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The gluten-free industry is booming in the US, growing 27% since 2009 and exceeding $6bn in 2011, according to recent Mintel research.

However, despite an increase in popularity and product development, celiac disease and gluten intolerance could be widely undiagnosed, said Mintel. It found just 1% of consumers say they’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease and only 8% overall say they are gluten intolerant/sensitive.

However, Mintel research suggests that number should be closer to 15%.

“The prevailing problem is many Americans simply may not realise they are gluten intolerant/sensitive, or they may be ignoring signs and symptoms,” said David Browne, senior analyst at Mintel.

“While food companies may be overdoing it unnecessarily with gluten-free label claims appearing on everything from tomato sauce to scallops, the message is getting out and it’s likely many more consumers will engage in the sector, both for foods eaten at home and at restaurants.”

According to Kerry Watson, SPINS natural and specialty product expert, more doctors are testing for these conditions and more people are experimenting with a gluten-free diet. “It’s our responsibility as an industry to answer the needs of this growing population,” she said.

The industry seems to be taking notice. According to Mintel Menu Insights, gluten-free menu items have increased 280% from Q3 2008-Q3 2011. Meanwhile, Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) found product launches with a gluten-free claim nearly tripled in 2011 to roughly 1,700 products as compared to 2007.

Alexandra Smith, Mintel’s director of consumer trends, said: “Demand for ‘free-from’ foods is on the rise as consumers become better educated (and more fearful) about allergies and additives. This has certainly increased awareness of the potential dangers in things like trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and now gluten, but it may have also contributed to burnout. When we’re constantly warned about new food dangers, we eventually tune out.”