The market for gluten-free foods and beverages is booming, with double-digit growth over the last four years as more consumers find themselves diagnosed with celiac disease and food allergies.
The market for products without the gluten protein — found in wheat, barley, rye and some other grains — is valued at $4.2 billion this year, according to a report from Packaged Facts. Since 2008, it has grown at a compound annual rate of 28% and is expected to exceed $6.6 billion by 2017.
Gluten-free snacks and granola bars make up the largest chunk of the industry, accounting for 15% of sales, according to the report. The vast majority of beers also include gluten.
But this year, nearly 2 in 10 U.S. adults are avoiding such items. Some 18% of adults are going gluten-free, according to Packaged Facts, up from 15% in 2010.
Growing consumer suspicion that grain-based diets are unhealthy or unnatural — hence the recent popularity of the so-called Paleo diet — have helped boost the gluten-free industry.
And the perception that gluten-free products are better for the body-conscious buyer has also helped. Celebrities such as Miley Cyrus have credited their weight loss to gluten-free eating.
But experts have cautioned that such a diet isn't for everyone. A strict gluten-free regimen should be undertaken only by those diagnosed with celiac disease, which causes the small intestine to react to gluten in such a way that disrupts digestion.
Otherwise, adherents may find themselves low on fiber — and scrapped for cash because gluten-free products tend to cost more than other products.
The National Institutes of Health says celiac disease affects about 1 in 100 people in Europe and North America. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center estimate is 1 in 133 healthy people.