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The Final Proof: May 2010

Gluten-free’s rapid improvement

Written by Jane Dummer   
Better products, prices and diagnoses are driving growth, but as more players enter the market, quality assurance is critical.

final_proof
One of Kinnikinnick Foods’ two locations in Edmonton.

The gluten-free (GF) food market was worth almost $1.6 billion last year, according to Packaged Facts. Sufferers of celiac disease (CD), who must avoid all gluten in their diet, are primary consumers of GF products, but other sectors of the population, such as those who are diagnosed with wheat or gluten intolerance or who have chosen a gluten-free diet, are strong drivers as well.

As a registered dietitian, 15 years ago, my experience with GF products went like this: expensive, lacking nutrition, bad tasting and only available at specialty stores. Now, gluten-free products have reached the next level in terms of taste experience, including flavour, texture and mouth feel. Plus, nutrition is playing a stronger role, with the use of more nutrient-dense ingredients such as pulse flours and ancient-grain blends.

Jim McCarthy, executive director of the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA), agrees that the gluten-free market has rapidly expanded and improved. Over the past five years, he has seen larger companies conduct reviews of their products, then reformulate and create new ones to serve the GF market. McCarthy identified Campbell’s Soup and Pizza Pizza as having launched high-profile gluten-free products in the past year.

Campbell Company of Canada nutrition strategy manager Andrea Dunn says the idea to formulate Campbell’s gluten-free products grew out of a passionate group of employees who had or knew someone with CD.

“In just a few years, we are proud to see this idea become a reality with 13 tasty, affordable, gluten-free soups and broths on grocery store shelves,” Dunn told Bakers Journal.

Two home-grown companies have been dedicated to offering great-tasting, nutritious and affordable gluten-free products for many years throughout North America and internationally. Elisabeth Riesen, co-founder and owner of Cambridge, Ont.-based El Peto, has been in business for 22 years. Riesen, who hails from Switzerland, says El Peto has been formulating with quinoa and pulse flours for years and has enjoyed a steady 20 per cent growth rate annually over the past decade. Dedicated to due diligence of its gluten-free formulations, it has an in-house lab testing all incoming ingredients (prior to use) with a critical limit threshold of five parts per million. Similarly, Jerry Bigam, owner and CEO of Edmonton-based of Kinnikinnick Foods (see “Gluten-Free’s Big Name,” Bakers Journal, November 2009), says that over the past six years his company has experienced 20 per cent growth annually and its facilities have expanded from 13,000 square feet to 150,000 square feet, including a retail store. Kinnikinnick has always been dedicated to great-tasting and nutritious formulations using pulse fractions and flours, plus understanding what is involved in the “scale-up” process of taking intricate gluten-free recipes from the test kitchen to the manufacturing facility.

Bigam says two key factors in the double-digit growth of GF products are better diagnosis of the CD and gluten-sensitivity population and the U.S. gluten-free market’s expansion from the health-food stores to mainstream grocery chains.

Shelley Case is a Canadian registered dietician, international gluten-free nutrition expert and author of the national bestseller Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide. Case concurs that one of the drivers of GF market growth is expansion of the customer base from the consumer with CD to those who suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, multiple sclerosis and irritable bowel syndrome.

With a prevalence rate of CD at about one per cent worldwide, this would mean that almost three million Americans have the disease, but it is estimated that only five to 10 per cent are currently diagnosed. Based on those figures, the gluten-free market is only going to continue to expand. In recent years, Case has seen traditionally used mixtures of white rice, corn, potato starch and tapioca (which often led to an average product with minimal nutritional qualities) being replaced by pulses, quinoa and amaranth flours and fractions. As they increase their range of GF products, more companies are doing their due diligence in testing the quality of these items, but Case warns that some firms are jumping on the bandwagon without dedicating the time, knowledge and production facilities to guarantee gluten-free products. If you’re considering getting into the GF marketplace, Case suggests doing your research and keeping up to date with industry associations.

As the gluten-free market continues to grow, it’s great to see committed companies using quality ingredients, dedicating time and knowledge to the production process, and then offering more affordable options with better nutrition and taste experiences.
 
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