Innovative and improved gluten-free breads and flours now taste more like their wheat-based counterparts.

For many reasons, from celiac disease to gluten intolerance to the paleo lifestyle trend and best-selling books, such as Wheat Belly and Grain Brain, people are choosing to remove gluten from their diets. “Therefore, the market for gluten-free foods is booming,” said Jason May, owner of California-based Great Low Carb Bread Company. In fact, by 2020, the market is projected to be valued at $23.9 billion U.S.

The company sells a number of paleo items, which are both gluten free and low carb. “These items continue to do well for us, and we are responding to these sales trends and customer demand by continuing to develop new SKUs to add to our paleo line.”

“The market for gluten-free breads and flours is experiencing robust growth and has mainstreamed more quickly than categories that start as specialty foods usually do,” agreed Category Manager David Rosenberg, with Illinois-based Living Now. “With this comes a broad range of quality, with some products being nutritious, natural offerings, and others being relatively less nutritious because of certain ingredients, such as an excess of sugar or sodium. Products have become more innovative with a wider variety of offerings and improved formulations that are closer in taste to their traditional wheat-based counterparts.”

Alfredo Avila president of DeLand Bakery & DeLand Natural Market in Florida, said the company has also seen significant growth in gluten-free products. “DeLand Bakery can confirm these statistics from their store sales at DeLand Natural Market: 30 percent of all daily purchases are gluten-free products.”

The interest is broad, Avila added. “We are noticing more people, many Baby Boomers, interested with their health and well-being, especially with health care cost increasing. With mass media reporting the benefits of good eating habits and exercise, we are also seeing an increasing trend of young people between 18 and 30 years of age that are generally concerned with what they put into their bodies.”

Market Impact

Peggy Sutton, founder and president of To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co., in Alabama, said where gluten-free flours and breads are concerned, she believes the biggest positive impacts made in recent years include taste and variety. “Many manufacturers have figured out how to make great tasting breads and baked goods with a variety of gluten-free flours. In fact, To Your Health offers 11 different sprouted gluten-free flours and 18 additional sprouted grains, legumes, seeds and other products,” she said. This year, the company plans to introduce gluten-free baking mixes.

In addition, seeing more paleo items enter the market has been a positive change, said May. “To me, this is an indication that people are not only eliminating their gluten intake, but they are lowering their sugar consumption as well.”

And more awareness of food sensitivities by the public has certainly impacted the market as well. “Food sensitivities can manifest in subtle ways that are difficult to diagnose, so many people have turned to elimination diets to see if that helps,” Rosenberg pointed out. “Because of the wide visibility of gluten-free diets and rapid expansion of available products, consumers find it relatively easy to explore gluten-free diets to see if they feel better. From mainstream and natural food labels and supermarket shelf talkers, to restaurants offering gluten-free menu items, to articles in mainstream press and even comedians making jokes on late night television, awareness of gluten-free diets is nearly universal.”

Trends in the market for gluten-free items cover the gamut of allergy friendly, lifestyle diets and more. Now many manufacturers are participating in or considering non-GMO (genetically modified organism) status for their products, noted Sutton. “Certified organic products, like To Your Health’s products, already meet this criteria, but for conventional products, non-GMO certification seems to be a way to increase sales and maintain low product prices. The cost of purchasing organic ingredients and obtaining/maintaining organic certification may not be a feasible option, or even an entertained option, for some conventional manufacturers.”

And since those who are sensitive to gluten can also have other food allergies, manufacturers are seeing more brands eliminate other potential allergens from their foods, Rosenberg said. “Consumers are looking for products such as Living Now that are made without soy, eggs, dairy, peanuts and other allergens to accommodate their specific dietary needs.”

Along with these demands, consumers are also looking for healthier options with natural ingredients but still expect a great-tasting product. “The variety of products hitting the market continues to expand, but clean labeling is becoming a higher priority,” said Rosenberg. “This means non-GMO ingredients, no artificial colors or preservatives and more organic options.”

At To Your Health, the company’s product line has increased largely as a result of customer requests. However, Sutton said the company also looks at very popular items in the market place, and ask whether or not sprouted versions would be favorably accepted. The company’s newest sprouted gluten-free products include, rolled oats, cornmeal, corn grits, popcorn, a variety of sprouted seeds and almonds and a baking mix.

Mastering Manufacturing: Quality and Cost

It can be a challenge, formulating healthy, nutritious products that taste good and are easy to work with, but it can be done with time, expertise and commitment. “For Living Now, we looked at favorite foods like pancakes and brownies, and found ways to take out bad or questionable ingredients and make natural mixes that are made without gluten and other common allergens and are non-GMO,” Rosenberg said. “Most importantly, these products had to taste great. A chef rather than scientists created our products, and we think our Living Now mixes taste even better than the conventional ones containing gluten. In fact, we get that type of positive feedback at the gluten-free shows we sample at. In addition, people who have, gluten sensitivities typically have other food sensitivities as well, so making them without common allergens in a dedicated facility better serves the consumer, but again, that takes expertise and commitment.

Avila said that considering the robust gluten-free growth, DeLand Bakery’s concern is supply and demand. “With the demand of gluten-free products comes competition for the best quality raw materials,” he noted. “When I mention the quality, we use non-GMO grains, so the competition will be fierce.”

“DeLand Bakery is interested, regarding the gluten-free product line, in using the best ingredients we can buy when producing a delicious and nutritious product,” Avila continued. “We would like to see more growers produce more certified, good-quality grains and raw material so we can continue to grow and produce our product range.”
At Great Low Carb Bread Company, May said the company strives to bake high-quality products using all natural and non-GMO ingredients without adding all sorts of inexpensive and low-quality “junk fillers” that raise sugar content. “We have been perfecting our baking formulations for over a decade, and I believe this experience helps drive our success.”

Sutton agreed that manufacturers have cleared the taste hurdle, but that there remains the challenge of making finished products that contain clean, more healthful ingredients to truly impact the gluten-free market in a positive way. “To Your Health provides its organic, whole grain, true-sprouted products to many manufacturers of gluten-free products who are becoming the backbone of a possible new paradigm shift to products with ingredients you can pronounce and that make a difference to the ever-growing more discerning food shopper,” she said.

Along with finding the best raw materials, there is the issue of the cost of gluten-free products. “You can always fine-tune the production side of the process with new equipment and working procedures,” Avila noted. “Deland Bakery strives to manufacture the highest quality product, accompanied by its certification, and to pass down healthy, nutritious products to the consumer for the best price.”

Healthiest Options

Health benefits for celiac sufferers and other people with gluten intolerance are obvious. Gluten has been linked to immune system issues, leaky gut syndrome, as well as other ailments. Recent studies done by the American Journal of Gastroenterology showed that many people who don’t have celiac disease are still abiding by gluten free diets for the overall health benefits.

Living a gluten-free lifestyle can be a healthy choice but it depends on the products being chosen. “It’s all about balance and making the right choices,” said Rosenberg. “Cookies and cupcakes are treats, and just because they’re gluten free doesn’t make them calorie free. For consumers and retailers, the most important thing is to look for ingredients that are natural and pronounceable and free of ingredients that may cause digestive distress.”

By using high quality, non-GMO ingredients, such as almond flour, flax meal, oat fiber and all-natural stevia. “We produce high-protein, high-fiber foods that won’t raise your blood sugar,” said May. “Our products tout an impressive nutritional profile—we even have the lab reports to prove it.”

Sprouted grain bread uses the whole grain, the process also brings out the individual subtle flavors and sweetness of each grain, legume and seed, removes bitterness, increases digestibility and increases the nutrients available. “All of To Your Health’s products are certified organic and are True Sprout certified,” said Sutton. “We do not add to, nor do we take away from the whole grain goodness of our gluten-free grains and flours. Our gluten-free products are manufactured in our dedicated gluten-free facility.

In-store Promoting

Retailers should make sure the offerings are clearly merchandised—visible signage that shouts out gluten free is imperative, said Rosenberg. Calling out other allergen-free qualities, such as dairy-free or egg-free is a huge plus and helps differentiate product offerings that can give your store a competitive advantage. “As the gluten-free market matures, allergen-free products will continue to become more prominent,” he added.“ Using promotional vehicles, such as circulars, couponing, demos and in-store classes helps reach out and educate this growing market.” Living Now offers a wide range of support materials to help retailers highlight gluten-free and allergy-friendly products.
Great Low Carb Bread Company products should be marketed as gluten free, sugar free and low carbohydrate. Although the company does not currently offer marketing collateral to retailers, May said they are interested in developing materials for retailers in the future.

As for To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co., the company has established an educational web site, www.truesprout.org, to inform customers about the benefits of sprouted flour. While still in its early stages of development, the website will soon also offer a catalog of recipes and baking tips, identification of true-sprouted products on the market, and where to find them.

“Being organic in addition to those benefits adds ‘health-ability’ to our products, too,” Sutton added. To Your Health gluten-free flours are usually prominent on the baking aisles of most large retail stores and sometimes can be found in the gluten-free sections of small or conventional grocery stores. “Our rolled oats and grits can be found on many cereal aisles, and our sprouted granola, seeds and almonds most often find their home on the snack aisles of stores. We work diligently to ensure that our retailers’ customers are informed, to help our retailers maximize their sales, and to ensure them that we are easy to work with and available to assist them.” GFR

For More Information:

Authentic Foods, (800) 806-4737
DeLand Bakery, (386) 734-7553
Great Low Carb Bread Company, (818) 505-9499
Living Now, (888) 669-3663
To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co., (334) 584-7875