Gluten-free: a must-have menu staple or a passing fad?
The worldwide market for gluten-free products is nearly $2.5 billion. And according to Packaged Facts, a Rockville, MD based research firm, the gluten-free market will exceed $5 billion by 2015.
This consumer demand for gluten-free products has been driven by several factors, originating with a rise in diagnosis of celiac disease. While only about 1 in 133 Americans has celiac disease, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, many more consumers have adopted a gluten-free diet or choose gluten-free products as part of a “healthier” diet choice.
Many progressive retailers are seeing results from their gluten-free initiatives.
- Chevys Fresh Mex unveiled a new gluten-free menu in May at approximately 42 corporate locations. The menu was developed in conjunction with Healthy Dining, a consulting group. The chain has also implemented a staff-training program in order to reduce the risk of contamination.
- Chuck E. Cheese’s began testing gluten-free items at six restaurants in Minnesota in May. The pizza is made off-site in a gluten-free facility and is packaged in special, pre-sealed packaging that is removed only once the pizza has been delivered to the consumer in order to reduce the risk of contamination.
- Domino’s Pizza Inc. unveiled a gluten-free crust option in May. The chain emphasizes that contamination is a risk.
- P.F. Chang’s China Bistro has had a gluten-free menu for several years. Items are made using separate cooking implements, and are served on plates with a special logo to ensure that they are delivered to the proper patron.
Still, there are still a lot of mysteries surrounding what constitutes a gluten-free diet, including whether its health values have merit for those not diagnosed with celiac disease.
The varying strategies that restaurants are testing reflect a consumer-focused–but cautious–approach as the gluten-free diet market continues to take shape.