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Is gluten-free growth heading downhill?


Who hasn’t learned the term "gluten-free" in the last five years? This diet fad and food category has increased exponentially due to rising awareness about gluten intolerance and sensitivity as well as popular media that touts potential weight loss and resolution of other health problems.

But the question is, will 2015 be the year that gluten-free flattens out?

The first Gluten Free Expo of 2015 in Vancouver may be a sign with sales and attendance flat over last year and dramatically down in overall numbers since 2013.

Interestingly, many people attending weren’t even strictly gluten-free, which is more in line with a fantastic result of the gluten-free movement—a term I call "grain-consciousness." Many people have realized that they were consuming processed wheat products for the majority of their grain servings in a day and at almost every meal or snack. They may not have a problem with wheat per se, but too much of anything can be unhealthy! No one would eat seven or eigh bananas a day and think they were getting their fruit and veggie requirement. Good nutrition is all about balance and variety.

These consumers will be more likely to try other grains that show promise for those with digestive issues and food sensitivities, including some that contain gluten proteins but just not in the same ratio as in modern wheat. These include spelt, Khorasan,, rye and barley as well as ones that do not contain gluten, like buckwheat, oats, sorghum, millet and amaranth.

Research and Markets still projects growth for the gluten-free category but reports that sales are starting to drag as people without gluten intolerance or celiac disease realize that all their health and weight problems won’t be relieved by eating gluten-free foods and their grocery bills may have increased from buying them.

One reason for the continued growth among the gluten-free category is the entrance of conventional and mainstream brands trying to jump on the bandwagon. Major cereal, flour, bread and pasta companies have had to introduce a gluten-free line to try and take back the market share lost to specialty brands that were in the gluten-free category 4 or 5 years ago.

The same holds true for conventional grocers—they will see growth in this category as they increase square footage allotted and carry more gluten-free products their customers have never been able to purchase there before. In contrast, natural and specialty grocers that have been saturated in gluten-free products for a couple of years now are starting to see sales flatten out as gluten-free becomes available everywhere.

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