While only 11 percent of U.S. households follow a gluten-free diet, about one in four consumers feel that gluten-free is good for everyone, reports The NPD Group, a global information company. However, the general healthfulness of gluten-free foods is offset, consumers say, by the high cost and taste of these foods, per NPD’s recently released "Understanding the Gluten-Free Trend" report.
The perception that gluten-free is generally healthy is reflected in NPD’s finding that only 25 percent of those living in a gluten-free home say celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is the main reason. Among the other reasons consumers cite for following a gluten-free diet are that it improves digestive health and eliminates toxins from the body.
“There is clearly a segment of the population who avoids gluten for reasons other than gluten sensitivity or disease, providing a greater opportunity for food manufacturers and retailers,” says Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst. “Food marketers should pay close to attention to all of the reasons for a gluten-free diet and connect the reasons with appropriate messages in order to better target your audiences.”
Food marketers also need to keep in mind the consumer-perceived downsides, which are the high costs of gluten-free products and the taste of these products not being up to par. Half of gluten-free consumers say that they may not be willing to sacrifice taste in order to maintain a gluten-free diet; however, the most cited reason for choosing to not purchase a gluten-free product is that it was too expensive, according to The NPD Group report.
“Careful consideration of pricing compared to alternatives that contain gluten will be of particular importance to the success of most gluten-free products, especially in the current economy," Seifer says. “Continued improvement of the taste of gluten-free products will also be important in order to keep consumers purchasing in the gluten-free space.”