The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT)—a nonprofit scientific society with 22,000 members working in food science, food technology, and related professions in industry, academia, and government—continues to recognize gluten-free food products as increasingly significant factors in food marketing in the United States.
In a recent news release (see here for a previous example), the IFT advances the notion that the perceived need for certain foods—including gluten-free foods—based on sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies is disproportionate to the medical need. But in generalizing that more people believe they are food sensitive/intolerant/allergic than medicine would say would have such problems, the release does not acknowledge the recognized finding that the opposite holds true for people with celiac disease. As the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) puts it: "Celiac affects 2.2 million people -- one in 133 Americans. An overwhelming 97% of the affected population are currently undiagnosed or misdiagnosed." To put it yet another way: In the United States alone, about 2 million people who should be gluten-free diets do not perceive that they need to be on such diets.
The occasion for the news release is the publication of "The Top 10 Functional Food Trends" [PDF], an article by Liz Sloan in the April 2008 issue of the IFT publication Food Techonology. IFT describes Sloan as the Contributing Editor and President of Sloan Trends and Solutions, a trending and market predictions firm focusing on the food industry.
The term "functional foods" refers to foods that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition. The article, which describes the most promising trends in terms of food marketing, forecasts growth in the gluten-free market, notes significant shopper interest in gluten-free products, and notes that "gluten-free" is among the top 10 health claims found in U.S. menus.
References to the gluten-free food market come up under Trend 8: Sensitivity Training, a discussion of consumer concerns about food sensitivities. The discussion begins with an overview:
The number of adults who perceive that they, or their children, suffer from food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities continues to grow, creating lucrative markets, disproportionate to their true medical base. One in five (20%) of U.S. adults say they have a food "sensitivity;" 28% of parents report their child is afflicted (Mintel, 2007d).Sloan goes on to portray gluten-free products as a growth industry and a significant concern among shoppers.
With 70 million Americans suffering from digestive ailments, sensitive tummies represent an enormous functional food opportunity (NIDDK, 2007). Over one-third (37%) of consumers are very/extremely concerned about gastrointestinal (GI) issues, up 6% in the last two years (HealthFocus, 2007)....
Gluten-free products are projected to grow from $870 million to $1.7 billion by 1010 (Packaged Facts, 2007b). In 2007, 16% of shoppers checked the label for gluten (FMI, 2007). Hain Celestial Group's new gluten-free line of frozen meals is fortified with the nutrients commonly deficient in gluten-free diets and has a prebiotic [sic] to aid digestion. Allergy Friend Foods LLC's Allergaroo entrees—free of all of the eight major allergens—come in shelf-stable microwaveable pouches in spaghetti, chili mac, and other flavors."Regarding the menus, Sloan notes that "Vegetarian, vegan, low-carb, low-fat, gluten-free, light, organic, trans fat-free, natural, healthy, and low-calorie are the top 10 health claims on menus (Mintel Menu Insights, 2008)." As far as I can tell, that reflects a huge change over the past 5-10 years.
Also of interest: The article also states that "With almost 12 million men having low bone mass and 2 million with osteoporosis, a male bone-health market is fast approaching...." (Osteoporosis is common among men with undiagnosed celiac disease.)
And "Energy was the top reason consumers made a dietary change last year (Roper GfK, 2007)." (Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms among people with undiagnosed celiac disease.)