Is Gluten Free a Trend or Fad?


Cover slide for May 2012 presentation on food trends

A May 2012 presentation on U.S. food trends resulted in an audience discussion on the gluten free products. The whole presentation can be viewed through a link in the blog. 

This last week I gave a presentation on trends in the food industry at the May 2012 Food Executive Women’s meeting. The Chicagoland-based group ( was founded about 21 years ago and its membership profile is somewhat similar to the Institute of Food Technologies, just all female.

The presentation covered trends previously mentioned in this blog with further details.  It also included comments on a few additional trends. The audience had questions and comments on one trend in particular…that of “free from” foods for which gluten free was used as an example. Although they differ from each other, statistics from both Packaged Facts and New Nutrition Business show phenomenal growth in the U.S. gluten free market. Many in audience were nutritionists and the question arose as to whether gluten free was a trend or a fad. They also asked from where were the statistics on gluten sensitive people derived? Were they self-diagnosed?

Although I am not aware of a quantitative way to differentiate a fad from a trend (I’d appreciate comments), interest and attention to gluten free is here to stay. There are simply too many people legitimately impacted by gluten for it to go the way of low carbohydrate foods (although I’d argue that hasn’t disappeared either, just morphed into interest in new eating patterns).

While certainly many have falsely self-diagnosed gluten issues, clinical research does support very high rates.  One study (Fasano A, et al. 2003. Arch Intern Med. 163(3):286-92.) places the prevalence of Celiac disease at 1 in 133 in the U.S. based on the presence of serum antibodies and intestinal biopsies.  Another study (Sapone, A, et al. 2001. BMC Med.9:23.) places the number of gluten-sensitive individuals at about 10% of the U.S. population. They again identified Celiac patients by antigen typing and intestinal biopsies and gluten-reactive individuals by a gluten challenge carried out for about four months under clinical supervision.

Anyway, for anyone that has the interest (and patience…it may take over a minute for the slides to load), the presentation can be viewed by clicking here.

— Claudia O’Donnell, Co-owner, Global Food Forums, Inc.
Posted on:May 22, 2012

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