Gluten-Free A Growing Market

According to research data, even though fewer than 1 percent of the U.S. population have been medically restricted from ingesting gluten, the category has taken off enormously.

By Kantha Shelke, Ph.D.

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Amy’s Kitchen Inc. (www.amys.com), Petaluma, Calif., manufactures of a full line of organic products from snacks to mac & cheese to frozen dinners launched a successful line of gluten -free products several years ago. The company pushed this former niche category closer to the mainstream by including several ethnic meal varieties within the category, including Indian, Asian and Mexican meals.

Gridley, Calif.-based Mary’s Gone Crackers (www.marysgonecrackers.com) CEO Mary Waldner attributes her company’s explosive sales growth partly to the growing demand for gluten-free and partly to the surge in the organic food category. Waldner added brown rice, quinoa, and amaranth to replace gluten-containing cereals, and oil-rich flax seeds and sesame to replace functional hydrogenated fats and chemical additives in the formulation.

While Bob’s Red Mill provides a full line of flours from nuts and legumes, some bakers are turning to potatoes. London, Ontario-based Funster Natural Foods (www.funsterfoods.com) employed new baking technologies to convert such traditional food ingredients into healthful new products, with special targeting of the children’s market.

Funster offers a good reason for “creating healthy options that children will actually want to eat and parent find easy to prepare.” The company’s Mashed Potato Letters are meant to be served oven-baked, not fried, making them even healthier. Don Bartlett, president of Funster, notes also they are “easy on the conscience – the Mashed Potato Letters are free of GMO, preservatives, trans fat, saturated fat, artificial colors and flavors and additives.”

Gluten-free baking involves more than grains. Pulses – peas, beans, chick peas and lentils – are of inestimable mutual value to both the gluten-free trend and their own renaissance. Making up the majority of the edible legumes, they have the capacity to provide processors with formulation solutions that carry phenomenal marketing value.

Pea flour, for instance, can be blended with non-gluten flours to replace wheat and provide a balanced source of protein. Moreover, flours from peas and other pulses, like beans and chickpeas are high in fiber and contain multiple minerals and vitamins, including folate. To top it off, products made from and with pulses can cash in on the “green” trend: they’re an environmentally friendly crop that fixes nitrogen instead of requiring large amounts of fertilizer.

Another legume, soy, has made multiple inroads into the full spectrum of healthful products, including baked goods. But several cracker and cookie manufacturers using soy are taking advantage of its gluten-free status.

One example is Newman’s Own Organics (www.newmans.com), Aptos, Calif., just released its Soy Crisps line of snack crisps. They come in four flavors (three savory and one sweet), cinnamon sugar, white cheddar, lightly salted and  barbecue. They contain no trans fats or saturated fats. Made with organic soy and organic rice, they’re gluten free, plus contain 7-9g protein and 3g fiber per 1-oz. serving.

The exciting thing is that the companies doing the most are the small, boutique bakeries. It’s the perfect fit a relatively new category like gluten-free opens, especially when it’s related to health and digestion. It allows a wide variety of high-quality products to win otherwise reluctant consumers. What remains is to see how the giant baking concerns choose to enter this fast-rising, hot market.

Sidebar: Gluten-Free…Beer???
In 2005, Milwaukee-based Lakefront Brewery Inc.’s New Grist sorghum beer was a big hit. It’s seeing double-digit sales growth and is now sold in more than half the country. Late last year, Anheuser-Busch Co., the nation's largest brewer, owner of about half the U.S. beer market with such iconic American brews as Budweiser, Busch and Bud Light, saw this niche as so important it launched its own gluten-free beer. But c’mon! How can beer – a liquid – be gluten-free? Easily, it so happens. Sprouted barley is the main ingredient in beer, and many brews use wheat, too. Since gluten is a protein and water soluble, some of the barley’s “gluten” hordein  a glycoprotein similar to glaiden in wheat – ends up in the beer and can cause an immune reaction in susceptible individuals. Beer is not a fermented, not distilled product, and therefore no amount of filtration is going to remove all of the potentially offending peptides. Distillation would. Therefore all wines and spirits are gluten free.

Mark Anthony, Ph.D.

 

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