Food companies are rushing to slap gluten-free labels on almost everything they can—even products that never had gluten in them to begin with. It’s all part of the lemming-like behavior to get a gluten-free piece of the $4.2 billion pie that is estimated as the market for such products.
In fact, Ad Age reported that the market for gluten-free foods could reach $6.6 billion by 2017.
The gluten-free craze is a prime example of perception versus reality, as well as competitive market forces creating a rush of food companies to jump on the bandwagon—or, like lemmings, off a cliff.
The people who really need to avoid gluten are those with celiac disease, an estimated 3 million people in the United States. However, the perceived health benefits of being gluten-free, inspired in part by the book Wheat Belly, which indicts modified grain for everything from colds to cancer, are driving mainstream consumers to gobble up the products.
For food companies, what may have started out as an innovative marketing ploy is quickly becoming a me-too tactic. Just as companies jumped on the “lite” food craze, a new category gets created and becomes a norm, and what was once innovative (or at least somewhat distinct) becomes commonplace—which illustrates the need to be continually creating.
I hope that some of these companies are already planning for what comes after the gluten free-fad-turned-trend-turned-new normal, which it’s quickly becoming.