The gluten-free industry has grown 27 percent since 2009, exceeding $6 billion in 2011. However, despite an increase in popularity for the lifestyle, celiac disease and gluten intolerance could be widely undiagnosed.
According to Mintel, just 1 percent of consumers say they've been diagnosed with celiac disease and only 8 percent overall say they are gluten intolerant/sensitive. Mintel research suggests that number should be closer to 15 percent.
"The prevailing problem is that many Americans simply may not realize they are gluten intolerant/sensitive, or they may be ignoring signs and symptoms," David Browne, senior analyst at Mintel, said in a press release. "While food companies may be overdoing it unnecessarily with gluten-free label claims that are appearing on everything from tomato sauce to scallops, the message is getting out and it's likely that many more consumers will engage in the sector, both for foods eaten at home and at restaurants."
The industry is responding to the gluten free craze. According to "Mintel Menu Insights," gluten-free menu items have increased 280 percent from the third quarter of 2008 to Q3 2011. Meanwhile, Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD) found that product launches with a gluten-free claim nearly tripled in 2011 to roughly 1,700 products as compared to 2007.
"Food scares have pushed ingredients analysis up the agenda,” Alexandra Smith, Mintel's director of consumer trends, said in the release. “Demand for 'free-from' foods is on the rise as consumers become better educated (and more fearful) about allergies and additives. This has certainly increased awareness of the potential dangers in things like trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and now gluten, but it may have also contributed to burnout. When we're constantly warned about new food dangers, we eventually tune out."