The remarkable growth of gluten-free food sector in the US and Europe is a big mystery defying any logic. Though number of people affected by gluten allergy is substantial, the galloping growth of this segment of food industry does not explain such a frenetic pace of development. According to market watchers not even 20% of the consumers buying gluten free foods really need them for health reasons. Whether the marketing hype or heavy promotion by the industry is responsible for this phenomenon is not known. Definitely superior eating quality of these products cannot be the reason as substituting gluten in many products with other ingredients does compromise on some sensory qualities! As in many cases scare about unsubstantiated health hazards of some food components on health, gets ingrained in the minds of the consumers leading to such large scale avoidance of such products. Gluten is also implicated in some health disorders like Celiac disease in a few people and many articles, most of them motivated by vested interests, appear from time to time regarding the virtues of avoiding gluten in foods by the consumers. In contrast, knowing fully well the harmful impact of consuming meat based foods regularly and the advantages inherent in plant based foods, consumers do not seem to be too much concerned leading to a situation where vegetarian food portfolio is shrinking progressively these days! One can only hope better sense will prevail on human beings regarding the dangers posed by animal foods and switch over to plant foods sooner than later. Here is a take on this puzzling market trend reported in the US and other Western countries.
"Consumer demand for products without gluten, however, is rising rapidly. Health-conscious Americans were first to avoid it in significant numbers. Sales of gluten-free food and drink there have surged from $5.4 billion to $8.8 billion over the past two years, according to Mintel, a market-research firm. They are set to grow a further 20% by 2015. Europe is now quickly catching up: there is double-digit sales growth in most countries, with Britain leading the way. This makes for tasty business. Sales in America of food untainted by gluten are forecast to grow by a further 61% by 2017, with similar increases expected in other rich countries. Shops have reshuffled their shelves and restaurants rewritten their menus to keep up with demand. Big supermarkets have been slimming down their range of vegetarian products and are stocking more gluten-free lines. Even small convenience stores in remote parts of rural Ireland and Italy now stock ranges of gluten-free bread and cakes. Restaurants, in particular, have rushed to launch menus that banish the stuff. The number of options that leave out gluten in British restaurants has tripled since 2011, says Emma Read at Horizons, a data firm. That is less because restaurateurs fear losing bookings from diners who want to avoid gluten, but more that they worry that their family and friends will not come along either. Yet some retail analysts fret that the wheat-free bubble will eventually burst, as it already has for meat substitutes. Many doctors say that only a few of the one-in-ten households that now regularly buy such products have a member with coeliac disease and a medical need to avoid gluten. But research from Monash University published last year shows that many more people may be sensitive to other allergens that are found in wheat. And according to a survey by Kantar, a research firm, only 22% of people who buy gluten-free food say they do so for non-medical reasons. This could be one foodie trend that turns out to be much more than a fad."
A fad is a fad which is bound to burst one day and this latest bubble about gluten free foods being demanded by a vast segment of the consumers will have to burst eventually. Regarding meat foods considerable efforts are needed to persuade consumers to progressively increase consumption of plant foods as meat industry cannot continue its operations in a sustainable form in the foreseeable future throwing out a plethora of problems vis-a-vis human health and environmental degradation. Attempts to create artificial meat through biotechnology is a welcome effort but it will ever be economically feasible is doubtful. Whether consumers will accept such products is another imponderable factor. In the long run humanity has no alternative but to switch over to plant foods which only can sustain this planet. It is better that the food industry world over gets reconciled to this truth and work on a long term strategy to expand its plant food portfolio as quickly as possible.