As a growing number of consumers turn to gluten-free products to enhance their wellbeing, demand for gluten-free food across all customer segments has changed from being medically driven to lifestyle driven and retailers are embracing the trend.
Stocking more gluten-free items, increasing the promotion of gluten-free products in-store, and launching their own brands, retailers are boosting the gluten-free sector, meaning for consumers, it is becoming much more common to find gluten-free products across all food categories.
Cementing its position as more than just a dietary fad, the market, which is set to exceed $4.64 billion this year, shows no signs of waning, with increasing demand pushing prices up and driving product innovation.
According to market research company, Technavio, there are three emerging trends that have the potential to significantly impact the market and contribute to its growth over the next three years: health and wellness, demand from millennials and increased marketing activities.
Do they have the potential to affect strategic business decision?
Health and wellness
Today, personal health and wellness is a major factor contributing to the growing demand for an abundance of products and services, and gluten-free food products are no exception.
Nick and Camilla Barnard, co-founders of London-based healthy food and drinks company Rude Health, say their gluten-free products, which include granola, rice crackers and cereals, appeal to customers that are into cool new health trends. However, they sit as well on the shelves of a regional health food store as they do on the aisles of national retail outlets of Booths or Sainsbury’s.
Health is core to the Rude Health brand, so the opinion that gluten-free products are generally healthier is one of the prime influences for purchase among customers who feel that gluten-free products can help to increase energy and combat weight gain. But, Nick and Camilla believe the key to their success is that they stand for more than just that.
“We choose the best of ingredients and put them together in ways that make their natural flavours sing, with no need to fortify or falsify. By making a range which is naturally delicious, our consumers have become our greatest advocates and that’s how we continue to rise and rise,” explained Barnard.
According to Kiti Soininen, Head of UK Food, Drink & Food service Research at Mintel, the ‘health halo’ of free-from foods is by far the key driver of the recent uptake, resulting in a much larger group of gluten-free consumers than the limited number of actual or suspected allergy or intolerance sufferers.
However, this leaves the free-from food category exposed to changes in consumer and media-driven opinion.
“The importance of health in driving uptake also means that companies need to ensure that nutrition profiles are best in class,” she argues.
Demand from millennials
A second major factor behind the exponential growth of gluten-free packaged foods is the growing demand from millennials.
As the younger population becomes more conscious about their diets they are opting to buy products they feel will enhance their health and aid weight management, which is boosting the consumption of gluten-free packaged food.
However, the increase in demand for gluten-free products doesn’t necessarily mean that millennials are cutting out convenience foods altogether, as bakery products, cookies and snacks rank as the most popular gluten-free foods in this particular customer segment.
Spotting a gap in the confectionary market, London-based startup Candy Kittens, producer of gourmet gluten-free candy, is one of a number of young brands marketing themselves toward this audience. The fun and accessible gluten-free products, which are currently stocked in Waitrose, Topshop and Sainsbury’s, feed into the gluten-free trend, whilst appealing to a younger, more mainstream audience.
“Opinions about gluten-free products are changing,” explained Stephanie Ross, Marketing Executive from Candy Kittens. “We’ve shown that just because a product is gluten-free it doesn’t have to compromise on taste. People can still enjoy their favourite treats whilst sticking to their regimes and avoiding gluten.”
Aside from consumers with genuine medical conditions, millennials are choosing free-from foods like these because it makes them feel healthier and they’re willing to pay a premium to do so. According to Technavio approximately 38% of generation Z and 32% of millennials are willing to pay a higher price for gluten free products.
Increased marketing activities
Another key driver behind the growing demand for gluten-free packaged foods is the increase in marketing initiatives by the manufacturers.
Both small and big manufacturers are using a holistic marketing approach to increase awareness about the benefits of gluten-free products. For Heinz that meant launching a full scale social media campaign during the launch of its gluten-free pasta and sauces, which involved driving traffic to exclusive Youtube content and investing in Facebook advertising and targeting popular ‘free from’ food and health bloggers.
For UK supermarket giant, Waitrose, gluten-free sells particularly well. “We know that many of our customers are increasingly looking for free-from products and we work extremely hard to offer a wide range to make sure we have suitable alternatives for all our customers,” Jo Heywood, Waitrose Free From Buyer told Welltodo.
Seeing an increase in all their gluten-free ranges, with sales up 25% on kitchen cupboard staples and an extraordinary 105% on last year in all frozen free-from foods, Heywood says the brand is always looking for ways to introduce new and great tasting gluten-free products to their customers.
Turning to social media outlets, own-brand magazines, and in-store promotions to influence their consumers’ food choices, supermarkets like Waitrose are hoping to attract new segments as well as widen the repertoires of existing gluten-free shoppers.