According to Packaged Facts’ new December 2023 report Gluten-Free Foods: US Market Trends & Opportunities, 7th Edition
, gluten-free packaged food and beverage products are primarily important to those with diagnosed celiac disease or wheat allergies, as exposure to wheat or gluten ingredients could make them sick or even be life-threatening. Additionally, a much larger number of people have real or perceived intolerances or sensitivities to gluten (non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS) and may seek out gluten-free foods to avoid unpleasant symptoms.
Though most people can eat gluten without ill effects, some consumers also believe that gluten is generally unhealthy. People may avoid gluten even without a related diagnosis or sensitivity if they think this ingredient is unhealthy, do not like it, or simply have a negative perception of it.
Some consumers who avoid gluten also may not follow a gluten-free diet all of the time. Packaged Facts’ September-October 2023 National Online Consumer Survey found that 31% of respondents reported they sometimes follow a gluten-free or wheat-free diet, indicating that gluten-free foods have a broad appeal among people who think that gluten is generally unhealthy or have a negative perception of this ingredient.
1. The Significance of Gluten-Free Snacking
Many snacks are compliant with gluten-free diets and purposefully exclude gluten ingredients, even if they would traditionally include gluten. Gluten-free snacks are the main inroads for casual gluten-free dieters, as achieving a favorable taste and texture without gluten is typically easier for the broad snacking category than for other items such as bread and pasta.
Consequently, snacking trends are key to the market for gluten-free foods. Most people report snacking at least once per day, and snacking activity is even higher among younger consumers (who are especially likely to seek out gluten-free foods).
The “snackification” of meals is especially significant, as some people are foregoing traditional meals, reducing meal portions in favor of snacks, or eating foods more traditionally seen as snack foods as a meal. Many “snackified” meals include naturally gluten-free foods such as cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nuts.
Additionally, relevant products that typically contain gluten can be purchased in gluten-free iterations (e.g., gluten-free crackers and bread made with alternative flours can be added to a snack plate).
2. How Gluten-Free Can Overlap with Low-Carb Diets
Some of the most popular diets for weight loss or health are low carb and high protein varieties. Several popular diets also emphasize low carbohydrate consumption as a component of a larger nutritional or lifestyle regimen. For instance:
- The keto (or ketogenic) diet mandates very low carbohydrate intake, high fat, and adequate protein content. It forces the body to burn fat by making carbohydrates scarce.
- The Atkins diet is similar, promoting the consumption of high fat and high protein content while carbohydrates and items such as bread, cereal, and pasta are strictly limited or forbidden.
Low-carb trends often overlap with gluten-free options, as grain ingredients that contain gluten are typically high in carbohydrate content. In some cases, foods that would usually contain gluten can be made with alternative ingredients, some of which reduce carbohydrate content as well, such as almond flour. Thus, such products can be compatible with both gluten-free and low-carb diets. Many naturally gluten-free foods are also low-carb, so gluten-free and low-carb diets often intersect with the types of foods consumers can eat.
3. Opportunities for Plant-Based Products
Many people are interested in plant-forward eating because of sustainability and animal welfare concerns surrounding the meat, dairy, and egg industries. Plant-based diets are also seen as healthier than conventional diets that include animal products, so many people are turning to plant-forward foods for reasons of health.
Plant-based eating is relevant to gluten-free dieting because both can be seen as special diets or eating philosophies. Additionally, gluten-free dieters are more likely to report following a plant-forward diet, so vegan and vegetarian meals that comply with gluten-free diets are desired by a significant minority of consumers who want or require gluten-free foods.
Many plant-based ingredients and plant-forward foods that appeal to health-conscious consumers are also gluten-free, which can increase interest in gluten-free products. For instance, chickpea pasta, pizza made with gluten-free cauliflower crust, and carrot wraps are plant-forward products that are also gluten-free, so they have a positive health perception among consumers who think that plant-forward diets are healthier as well as those who think that gluten is unhealthy.
Some consumers who are drawn to plant-based foods seek out alternatives to meat, dairy, or eggs that mimic the taste, texture, or function of these animal ingredients. However, many such plant-based alternatives (especially plant-based meat products) are made with gluten.
Thus, there are many opportunities for new plant-based alternatives to be made with gluten-free ingredients. Certified gluten-free meat alternatives appeal to both plant-forward consumers and those who follow a gluten-free diet at least sometimes.
Additional analysis of the gluten-free foods market can be found in Packaged Facts 2023 report Gluten-Free Foods: US Market Trends & Opportunities, 7th Edition
About the blogger:
Cara Rasch is a food and beverage analyst for Packaged Facts. She studies consumer and industry trends in this space and has a B.A. in economics from Allegheny College.