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Gluten-Free Industry Facts

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You can't go anywhere these dayswithout running into gluten-free products. Whether you're at the grocery storeor in a restaurant, the gluten-free option is everywhere. Heck, even the GirlScouts this year are offering gluten-free cookies. The question is do you needto buy them?

Gluten-free, according to thefederal government means getting rid of the protein found in wheat, rye andbarley. People with severe gluten allergies, a condition called celiac disease,obviously try to stay away from gluten. But those folks make up only onepercent of the population. What's going on now is that food manufacturers arepromoting these foods to everyone as healthier.

And, it's working. The business of gluten-free products is expected to grow 50percent in the next few years to $15 billion in sales by 2016. Today'sgluten-free products are purchased by 11 percent of customers – more than tentimes the number with celiac. At the same time, wheat flour consumption hasfallen to a 22-year low, according to the U.S.D.A. So these non-wheat productsare popular with loads of health-conscious consumers who believe in itsbenefits. Experts say as many as 18 million people or 6 percent of thepopulation may have a sensitivity to gluten.

But here's the rub: These products are more expensive than their more commoncounterparts – way more. Consumer Reports estimates that gluten-free productscan cost two to three times more than regular non-gluten free products. What'smore, you don't have to pay the premium price to stay away from wheat in somecategories. Plenty of foods are naturally gluten-free, like polenta,rice-crackers and nuts. 

Even so, food makers are on the bandwagon. General Mills, whose brands includeBisquick and Pillsbury, has begun reformulating products to remove gluten. It'salready reformulated Chex and plans to introduce gluten-free brownies, cookiesand cakes next year. Likewise, the grocery store chain, Wegman's, is now thecountry's largest seller of gluten-free products. New brands , like Udi's andGlutino, are taking advantage of the trend.

Just keep in mind as you shop the supermarket aisles that cheaper options maybe available.

 

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