Last year, my (former) physician sent me from his office with a prescription for “eat more bran.” Bran didn’t help. Bran, it turns out, was one of the reasons I had to see the doctor in the first place. As I would learn through self-diagnosis a few weeks later, I have (and have had for around ten years) an intolerance to gluten. That physician wasn’t necessarily unqualified or lazy; he, like many, didn’t have gluten on his radar. But he will. And the food, beverage, and ingredients industry will, too.
Curious about gluten? Here’s a very basic primer on why you need to have gluten on your radar if not in your gluten-free marketing plans.
For marketers: Gluten sensitivity is not a trend, it’s a recognition. Stories like mine (developing an intolerance to gluten years before recognizing it) are increasingly common. That number of stories is going to grow dramatically in the coming years as consumers become increasingly aware of gluten as a significant issue. Gluten issues (from celiac disease to intolerance) seem trendy right now because they’re relatively new to the public. They absolutely will move from trend to staple in the coming years. Food, beverage, and ingredients marketers can’t afford to think of gluten-free products as merely a trend.
For consumers: Gluten-free products are not just a necessity, they’re also a choice. Those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance aren’t the only ones who benefit from gluten-free products. Many people, including high-profile athletes, have adopted gluten-free diets, mostly based, I imagine, on increased energy claims. Because the cost of living gluten-free is still relatively high, gf as a lifestyle choice probably won’t catch on in a big way any time soon, but the consumer segment who buys gf from necessity will more than make up for that.
For manufacturers: Producing gluten-free is not an easy move, but it’s a potentially profitable one. Industry regulations for making gluten-free claims are complex and changing, so making the move requires in-depth planning, potential facility alterations, and regulatory knowledge (which MarketPlace is happy to provide!). But those who live the gluten-free lifestyle are quick to show loyalty to brands committed to quality gluten-free products, and that kind of brand loyalty is most likely more than worth the commitment.
For retailers: Offering a good gluten-free selection doesn’t make you unique, but it widens the gap between you and your competition. I get food from two restaurants in St. Louis, not because I’m picky but because they’re the only places I trust with the gluten issue. I don’t go out for a beer anymore because no place that I know offers gluten-free beer (cider is not beer!). Grocer or casual food chain, if you invest in gluten-free, you’ll have almost no competition—I’m desperate for good gluten-free options, and there are hundreds of thousands out there like me.
If you manufacture or market food, beverages, or ingredients and you want to talk gluten (or if any of you wants to suggest a gluten-friendly eatery!) we’d love to hear from you.