Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

Trend towards 'gluten-free' products worth millions

Map showing how much of the world is lactose intolerant (dark areas)
Map showing how much of the world is lactose intolerant (dark areas)
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Have you noticed the number of people that have switched to a gluten-free diet recently?

Some people must avoid gluten – they're allergic to it the same way that others are allergic to peanuts.

But that only accounts for 1pc of the population – at most.

It certainly isn't enough to justify the burgeoning supermarket space that is being devoted to gluten-free foods, or the millions that is being spent on new product development and marketing in this space.

US data shows that a miniscule 0.1pc of the population are actually diagnosed coeliacs.

Only 6-7pc of people believe that they are intolerant of gluten, either through their own or professional diagnosis.

But this figure trebles when it comes to the number of consumers that now buy gluten-free.

Most of these are driven by a belief that a gluten-free diet is healthier.

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It doesn't do any harm to the popularity of the trend when everybody from Bill Clinton to Novak Djokovic and Victoria Beckham swear by their gluten-free diets.

Bord Bia found similar trends in the Irish marketplace.

It's providing huge opportunities for food manufacturers looking for ways to add value and develop new markets.

"We used to think there was a ceiling in terms of the market, but we're not so sure anymore," said Regan Han, who is the marketing manager for US gluten-free bakery giant, Udi's.

This belief is fuelled by statistics that show that sales of gluten free products grew by 19pc last year.

But have Irish food manufacturers really exploited this new 'free from' trend to its full potential?

Ireland can grow one of the key gluten-free grain crops as well as anyone.

While oats are the poor relation compared to other Irish grain crops, they may be about to come into their own again since the grain doesn't contain any gluten.

But there appears to be a general absence of new product development activity from big Irish food players either in gluten-free products or the wider 'free from' space.

Lactose-free dairy should be the other big frontier for innovative food manufacturers. With so much of Asia, Africa and growing chunks of Western populations being (or believing to be) lactose intolerant, the growth potential strikes me as being almost limitless.

Finland's Valio has already shown the way in this regard.

Through the use of clever marketing, they've turned their lactose-free milk from something that was connected with an allergy to one that is now sold as an easier-to-digest product. Both claims are true, but the latter has a much broader market appeal.

So much so that Euromonitor figures show that lactose-free dairy sales in Finland (which Valio dominate) topped €100m for the first time in 2011.

The equivalent figure for Britain is just €16.5m. In Ireland it is barely more than €1m. But the trends are the same. In Britain sales of lactose-free dairy products have doubled in the last five years. There is no reason to believe that this trend is going to change or nose-dive anytime soon.

Indo Farming