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By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief | 02/11/2010
Second-generation replacement of trans fats and the removal of glutens continue to dominate product development activity in the baked goods category of the food industry.
Yes, gluten free. While many observers (ourselves included) have been waiting several years for this trend to live up to expectations, it finally may be hitting stride.
While there are “only” an estimated 2 million people in the U.S. with celiac disease, there are millions more who are either undiagnosed or who have diet sensitivities that are leading them to avoid glutens. And their numbers are growing as there is evidence, though far from convincing, that gluten may be connected to such wide-ranging maladies as autism, multiple sclerosis and attention deficit disorder.
If you watch TV’s “The View,” you’ve heard Elisabeth Hasselbeck, one of the co-hosts, talk about how removing wheat from her diet ended years of intestinal agony. She even wrote a book: “The G-Free Diet: A Gluten Survival Guide.”
There have been gluten-free products for a decade or more, but most came from small bakers. In the past year or so, however, the big guys have joined the fray.
Just before the end of last year, General Mills launched a web site, www.liveglutenfreely.com, to highlight its gluten-free products and to provide consumers with gluten-free recipes and information on how to buy and live without the problematic protein.
“One of the most frequent inquiries our customer service department receives is ‘What products are gluten-free?’ ” says Katie Lay, marketing manager of General Mills’ Health and Wellness division. “Consumers should always consult product labels prior to purchase, but our new website can give them 24/7 access to information about General Mills’ gluten-free products. We also created an electronic newsletter by the same name that consumers can subscribe to. Gluten-free product information and gluten-free recipes will be sent directly to their inboxes.”
Prior to launching www.liveglutenfreely.com, General Mills created a line of Betty Crocker gluten-free dessert mixes. The company’s Yoplait yogurt, Larabar fruit and nut bar, Betty Crocker Fruit Snack and Chex cereal product lines all contain several gluten-free items.
While General Mills is not alone, none of the biggest food processors is so heavily promoting or developing such products. The words “gluten” and “gluten-free” turned up zero hits on the web sites of all the other top 10 U.S. food companies (admittedly, many don’t have any products containing glutens). Zilch for Kellogg Co., despite its baked-goods portfolio. Nestle USA points out “almost all the Wonka candies are gluten free except for Oompas and the Wonka Bar,” and Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin is naturally gluten- free (and there’s a recipe for making a gluten-free pumpkin pie). Kraft has a Balance Fruit & Nut Energy Bar that’s gluten-free.
ConAgra Mills’ Eagle Mills All-Purpose Multigrain flour is a natural, whole-grain blend of the company’s “Ancient Grains flours” — amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff — as well as brown rice and tapioca starch. The gluten-free flour contains five of the six grains dubbed the “super six” by Melinda Dennis, nutrition coordinator at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Celiac Center, for their high vitamin and fiber content. The proprietary blend was formulated to achieve optimal texture, flavor, appearance and functionality in a variety of grain-based foods.
Ingredient suppliers are helping out with the gluten-free trend. Gum Technology Corp. (www.gumtech.com), Tucson, Ariz., recently discovered new uses in baked goods for its Coyote Brand Stabilizer ST-101, a blend of xanthan gum and guar gum.
Gluten mixed with water will produce an elastic and porous web, which is capable of trapping the gas bubbles that leavening agents produce allowing the product to rise. Stabilizer ST-101 is a natural gum blend that can replace that functionality in baked goods.
Gum Technology has found other bakery uses for ST-101. It binds moisture (reducing staling), improves cell structure, increases dough pliability and improves freeze/thaw stability. “It works well in everything from soups to baked goods,” says Sarah Martin, Gum Technology’s R&D chef. “It’s a blend that seems to have been around forever but we keep finding new ways to use it.”
Dow Wolff Cellulosics’ (www.dowwolffcellulosics.com) Methocel gluten replacer is a cellulose-based fiber providing moistness throughout the shelf-life of baked goods, preventing collapse during baking and avoiding the gas or bloating effects associated with many other sources of fiber.
Market research firm Datamonitor has recorded a steady increase in the past decade in the number of new products with a gluten-free claim: from 0.7 percent in 2000 to 10.4 percent last year.
“Gluten free has had a huge run-up since around 2005 -- the numbers have doubled since that time period,” says Tom Vierhile, director of Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics. “And the growth from 2008 to 2009 is also impressive since gluten-free should have been showing signs of age at that time. You would not know it from the numbers.”
The top categories, in order, for gluten free food products in 2009, based on the number of new product reports making that claim were: