Saturday, October 4, 2014


Whoever has not heard of Celiac disease which affectes many people who cannot consume foods containing the protein gluten. It is a tragedy that this small segment of consumer community cannot enjoy the pleasure of eating most of the bakery products which are made from wheat flour. Wheat allergy or insensitivity is manifested by the the autoimmune response in the intestine when gluten is ingested in any form with the white blood cells attacking the intestinal lining mistaking it for an invader not to be tolerated by the body. While Celiac disease is a full blown manifestation of gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity is relatively a minor version tolerable in many cases. American market to day is being flooded with gluten free food products for catering to people with gluten allergy. While the proportion of such people in that country is hardly 0.5% of the population, according to a recent survey more than 11% of the population buy these foods though they do not need them. How can this happen? The promotional power of American food industry can be gauged from this quixotic situation where consumers not needing specialty foods are brain washed into believing that they are good for them! Here is a take on this as reported below: 

'And consumers are responding with gusto. The portion of households reporting purchases of gluten-free food products to Nielsen hit 11 percent last year, rising from 5 percent in 2010. In dollars and cents, sales of gluten-free products were expected to total $10.5 billion last year, according to Mintel, a market research company, which estimates the category will produce more than $15 billion in annual sales in 2016.Launch media viewerMichelle Marinelli and her son, Joshua, of Staten Island, N.Y., shop at a Wegmans market in Woodbridge, N.J. Matt Rainey for The New York Times "I see this as part of the current American concern with digestive health, which is also responsible for the yogurt boom," said Harry Balzer, vice president at the market research company NPD Group, where he has followed the food industry for some 30 years. "About 30 percent of the public says it would like to cut back on the amount of gluten it's eating, and if you find 30 percent of the public doing anything, you'll find a lot of marketers right there, too." Never mind that a Mayo Clinic survey in 2012 concluded that only 1.8 million Americans have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack the small intestine when gluten is ingested and can lead to other debilitating medical problems if not diagnosed."

Increasing awareness about health and its relation to the quality of food is a welcome development but illogical misconceptions about the foods offered in the market can lead to distorted response which may not be good for a country. Why should the industry promote gluten free foods in such a massive way? The reason is clear. It is the increased profit generated by such specialty foods which drives the industry to invest in product development continuously. It is a good move basically to develop specialty foods like gluten free ones for those who depend on them for their life sustenance but promoting them as universal foods cannot be justified in any way. If industry cannot self control and self discipline itself the regulators must step in to force it to declare on such products that they are intended for those health compromised people though they may be harmless for others too. 


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