Journalists and food marketing gurus continue to tout the booming gluten-free market, as evidenced by the Annys Shin's Washington Post cover "Food Allergies Trigger Multibillion-Dollar Specialty Market", which comes complete with a photo including gluten-free Rice Chex and Mi-Del Arrowroot Cookies.
Some article highlights:
The market for food-allergy and intolerance products is projected to reach $3.9 billion this year, according to Packaged Facts, a New York research firm. And the market for gluten-free foods and drinks is expected to hit $1.3 billion by 2010, up from $700 million in 2006, according to research firm Mintel....
"Rice Chex . . . was truly our effort to meet the needs of these consumers," said Kevin Farnum, director of sanitation, quality and regulatory operations for General Mills. "We know there is a great demand among consumers to have free-from labeling."
Other major food manufacturers such as Kellogg's and Campbell Soup also sell products safe for people with food allergies and celiac, but they have been more cautious about embracing the free-from claim. Unlike with organic products, there are no government standards for what "free-from" means.
The steps General Mills took to insure that Rice Chex was gluten-free also illustrate how hard it can be for a large manufacturer to do so. In addition to tweaking the recipe, the company had to review its production process, from the time the rice is harvested to when the cereal is packaged, to be certain that gluten would not get into the product....
The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade [NASFT], a New York trade group, estimates that 300 of its 2,800 members offer more than 7,000 no-allergenic products, compared with five years ago, when about 50 members did, spokesman Ron Tanner said.
Increasingly, their customers don't necessarily have food allergies or celiac. They just think they do. "As much as 28 percent of U.S. citizens believe they are intolerant to some foods," said Mintel spokeswoman Joanna Peot. "This trend towards self-diagnosis has widened the 'free from' market from those who have to avoid certain foods to those who make a lifestyle choice for whatever reason."