Gluten-free food business is making a lot of bread
It's already a $4 billion market, thanks to a variety of health concerns, and food makers of all sizes are jumping in.
A recent survey released by NPD Group found that 29% of U.S. adults say they want to either cut back or eliminate gluten from their diets, an increase from 24% in 2009. However, NPD senior analyst Harry Balzer tells MSN Money he expects interest in the category to fade, though he isn't sure when.
"This is the health issue of the day," he said, adding that his research doesn't delve into why people want to buy gluten-free goods.
Sales reached $4.2 billion last year after experiencing a 28% compound annual growth rate in the proceeding four years, according to market researcher Packaged Facts. The market for these products is forecast to top $6.6 billion in 2017.
Many companies are certainly taking notice. Mondelez International (MDLZ), formerly Kraft Foods; General Mills (GIS); and Kellogg (K) are among the food giants offering gluten-free products, such as a version of Kellogg's Rice Krispies that can be used to make gluten-free treats (pictured).
Many smaller companies sell similar products, and experts say the market for gluten-free foods and beverages has grown faster than expected. Restaurants are cashing in as well, adding gluten-free dishes to their menus, as Nation's Restaurant News noted. Domino's Pizza (DPZ) began offering gluten-free crusts last year.
According to an op-ed published in The New York Times, scientists are mystified by the prevalence of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder tied to gluten that has quadrupled in the U.S. in the past 50 years. Nonetheless, it's still rare, affecting at most 1% of the world's population.
As for autism, some parents believe eliminating gluten along with casein, which occurs in dairy products, helps children with the disorder. WebMD, however, notes that the effectiveness of such a diet "has not been supported by medical research."
Anyone considering going gluten-free is advised to check with a health care professional, because gluten-free products are often made with refined grains and are low in nutrients, according to Scientific American.
Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.
Celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, is a genetic disorder that affects at least 1 in 133 Americans. Symptoms of celiac disease can range from the classic features, such as diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition, to latent symptoms such as isolated nutrient deficiencies but no gastrointestinal symptoms. The disease mostly affects people of European (especially Northern European) descent, but recent studies show that it also affects Hispanic, Black and Asian populations as well. Those affected suffer damage to the villi (shortening and villous flattening) in the lamina propria and crypt regions of their intestines when they eat specific food-grain antigens (toxic amino acid sequences) that are found in wheat, rye, and barley. Oats have traditionally been considered to be toxic to celiacs, but recent scientific studies have shown otherwise. This research is ongoing, however, and it may be too early to draw solid conclusions.
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