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Gluten-free equals healthy, consumers believe

Thank goodness beef and pork are gluten-free. Labeling identifying products as “gluten-free” has become one of the hottest trends in the business, and with increased exposure, consumers increasingly perceive gluten as “bad” and gluten-free as healthy.

In fact, some food companies have used “gluten free” labels to market products such as meat or beans that never would contain gluten, unless it was added for some reason. To be fair, the ingredient does turn up in some unexpected places, and a small percentage of the population, particularly those with celiac disease, are intolerant of gluten. But the popularity of gluten-free foods, in many cases, has little to do with that intolerance.

Gluten is a combination of proteins found in wheat and related grains such as barley and rye. It is present in wheat-based products such as bread and pasta, and is sometimes added to other foods as a stabilizing agent. According to Wikipedia, research has shown that between 0.5 and 1.0 percent of people in the US are sensitive to gluten due to celiac disease.

A new survey from The NPD group however, shows that about 11 percent of U.S. households have someone who follows a gluten-free diet, and of those people in gluten-free households, only 25 percent gave celiac disease or gluten sensitivity as the main reason to choose gluten-free products. Other reasons cited were the diet improves digestive health and eliminates toxins from the body.

The benefits respondents listed for gluten-free products were general healthfulness and the fact people with gluten sensitivities may eat them. As for drawbacks, they most frequently listed the high costs of the products and their taste, which was not perceived to be as good as their counterparts that contain gluten.

Another study from Mintel shows a 28 percent decline in the use of “organic” labels between 2010 and 2013, while “gluten-free” claims increased by 200 percent over the same period.

-John Maday


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