This niche product category generates extensive attention, and demand is growing. Producing gluten-free baked foods can be challenging, but the rewards could be high.
Bakers looking to improve their bottom line may consider adding new products that address dietary concerns. While some bakery categories, such as low carb, have seen a downturn in consumer interest, others are seeing a definite uptick.
The market for gluten-free products is expanding, due in part to increased diagnoses of gluten intolerance and celiac disease. “Awareness of celiac disease and gluten intolerance has improved over the last five to ten years,” says David Hall, personal chef and consultant. “However, 97 percent of persons affected with the disease remain undiagnosed.”
Gluten intolerance can manifest itself as extreme gastric discomfort, or in 13 percent of the gluten-intolerant population, trigger Grand Mal seizures along with other neurological conditions. A celebrity factor also has brought public attention to the gluten-free lifestyle. Elizabeth Hasselbeck of TV's The View and actress Jenny McCarthy both advocate gluten-free diets? — Hasselbeck for the relief of celiac disease, and McCarthy as a diet that may assist in the treatment of autism.
Gluten-free gaining ground
While medical opinions differ on both the diagnosis and treatment of these diseases, gluten-free is gaining ground as a viable treatment option. According to research provided by Penford Food Ingredients Co., Centennial, Colo., the gluten-free market, which includes the gluten-intolerant and their family members, is about $1.6 billion today and is expected to grow to $2.6 billion in 2012, with an average market growth rate of 29 percent since 2004.
The advantages of developing gluten-free cakes, breads, cookies, muffins or pizza dough that meet this market's needs is a huge incentive for bakers looking to expand their product lines.
Replacing gluten in breads, muffins, cookies and other bakery foods is tricky, as these products depend on the gluten in flour, primarily wheat flour, for texture, structure and crumb formation. The removal of gluten affects volume, color and cell size, creating products that often look and taste bad, says Brian Fatula, team manager-bakery/fats/oils, Danisco USA Inc., New Century, Kan. By using coordinated ingredient systems, bakers can make a much more appealing product.
“If producers can create products that taste good and have the characteristics of their gluten-containing counterparts, then the market opportunity is significantly expanded,” agrees Bryan Scherer, director of research and development, Penford Food Ingredients Co.
The challenge in developing flavorful gluten-free products has been to develop ingredient systems that are similar to gluten, but without using gluten's proteins that provide elasticity and viscosity to doughs, and develops chewiness in pizza doughs and bagels and tenderness and rise in breads. “Starches can work synergistically with one another and other protein sources to create the ideal texture and chewiness that can replace flour,” Scherer says.
Ingredients that contain hydrocolloids, starch, proteins, emulsifiers and enzymes are necessary to create a system that behaves similarly to gluten, Fatula says. “Hydrocolloids, such as carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), xanthan gum, locust bean gum and microcrystalline cellulose, help trap the gas produced by yeast in the dough. Vegetable, milk, egg or other specialty proteins add texture and crumb improvement; starches, such as rice, tapioca or potato, contribute to structure; and emulsifiers along with enzymes can be used to improve volume, cell structure, shelf life and appearance.”
Jim Garsow, director of marketing and innovation, TH Foods Inc., Loves Park, Ill. says, “We incorporate a variety of gluten-free grains and inclusions in our products including corn, sesame, quinoa, amaranth, flax, nut meals and seaweed.” The company manufactures a variety of crackers and snacks aimed at the gluten-free market.
These systems work interactively and must be customized to the type of product produced. Chewy or crispy cookies, breads, scones and bagels all require different combinations of ingredients to achieve optimal texture, appearance and flavor.
Bakers can work with ingredient manufacturers to find the approach that is best suited to their operations. Some manufacturers will adjust a bakery's existing formulas to gluten-free versions; others offer a ready-made mix of ingredients already developed for certain product categories or will work to develop custom gluten-free blends. Whatever is required, ingredient vendors are able to help bakers with their new formulations.
Processing in separate facility
Gluten-free products must be processed in a facility devoid of all gluten-containing ingredients. As little as 20 ppm of flour may be enough to induce a violent reaction in some people, Hall says. Labeling also is of utmost importance. All ingredients must be checked to ensure they are absolutely gluten-free and safe for consumption. For example, colors and flavors may be stabilized with a wheat-based thickener.
TH Foods' Garsow agrees. “One of the biggest challenges that we have is qualifying new gluten-free suppliers and ensuring all raw materials used as ingredients or processing aids in our products are gluten-free,” he says.
Challenges aside, the opportunity is huge for bakers who want to expand their product line. “Gluten-free consumers have formed tightly knit, large internet communities, which assist them in finding those venues that provide the products and sources they need,” Scherer says.
“In these groups, a producer typically does not have a second opportunity to get it right. News of poorly made products that make even one person ill will immediately wreak havoc for that business or its reputation (best case), or put it out of the gluten-free business (typical case),” Hall adds.
The future for the gluten-free market is vast. Unlike the low-carb craze, the gluten-free movement addresses the critical need of the glucose intolerant that cannot live with gluten in their diet. “Unlike diabetics, whose critical conditions may be treated with drugs, there is no drug for gluten intolerance. The only ‘cure’ for gluten intolerance is a strict enforcement to a gluten-free diet,” Hall says.
The market continues to expand as the need for these specialized products grows. Bakers who are ready to take up the challenge will be rewarded with a grateful following.