Look at the person to your left. Now look to the person your right. Chances are that one of the three of you eats a gluten-free diet. But there's an even greater chance that none of you has a real gluten allergy at all.
Although just one percent of people suffers from celiac disease, a serious condition that requires a gluten-free diet, the anti-gluten trend is only getting bigger, according to Bloomberg News. Research group Packaged Facts predicts that sales from gluten-free food will grow from $4.2 billion last year to $6.6 billion in 2017. That's a sign that gluten-free food marketers, ever trying to capitalize on trends, really couldn't care less if your gluten intolerance is real or not.
The gluten-free diet, which eschews wheat and similar grains, turned from a medical necessity for some into a mainstream food fad thanks to a combination of celebrity/athlete endorsements and changing ideas about healthy living in the past few years. Those who have switched, swear by its benefits and a gluten-free diet can, if done right, provide many people with a healthier lifestyle, as Salon's Molly May wrote last year. Other say cutting out foods that do have gluten means sacrificing other nutritional needs.
Of course, that's not really the concern of big food marketers, who just want to capitalize on a trend before it inevitably fades away. "Consumers, rightly or wrongly, have made a connection between gluten-free and healthy," a Rabobank analyst told Bloomberg News. That's the impetus behind things like gluten-free nacho cheese Doritos. General Mills has made a big move into gluten-free cereals and has seen huge dividends; 10 percent growth each of the past three years within a stagnant breakfast cereal sales area.
So why not take advantage of the latest food craze? Especially if might not last long. "Gluten-free products are expensive, so that will drive shoppers away from buying them once they realize little or no benefits from the diet," food-industry analyst Phil Lempert told Ad Age in September.
To those actual celiac disease sufferers, consider this the Golden Age of gluten-free eating. Enjoy those cheesy Doritos for now, because once the anti-gluten fad goes away, marketers will be quick to go back to their "Big Grain" friends.