Life, liberty and the pursuit of a perfect pizza crust. The inalienable American right to oven-warm brownies with crunchy corners and oozy insides. The freedom to breathe deeply the almost-edible aroma of bread baking in your kitchen any time you want. And the opportunity for children of all ages to indulge in one of the world's finest pleasures: licking the spoon. For too long, people with bodies that can't handle gluten were second-class citizens of the baking world. They were stuck with a sorry state of kitchen affairs, says Matthew Cox, marketing manager for Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods, "resigned to the fact that things they made with gluten-free mixes would taste a bit off, or weird." "Or disgusting," says Vanessa Maltin, director of programming and communications for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, who has celiac disease.
But those days are over.
In response to the demands of the growing population of gluten-intolerant Americans, companies have developed mixes that free them from the crumbly shackles of dry breads and from muffins with flavors that suggest more sawdust than flour dust. The bar—or spatula—has been raised.
The gluten-free market is exploding like an overstuffed crème puff. The number of new UPC-coded items with gluten-free claims has more than tripled over the past three years, from 709 in 2005 to 3,209 today, according to the Ambler, Penn.-based National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. One in 133 Americans suffers from celiac disease, and many others are opting for a gluten-free lifestyle for other health reasons. And, apparently, they want their cookies (and muffins and cake and crêpes).
Gluten-free products aren't on the fringe anymore. Even Oprah did a gluten-free cleanse last summer. Walmart offers gluten-free goodies. Anheuser-Busch is poised to launch a gluten-free beer.
Sales of gluten-free baked goods in natural markets grew by 18 percent in the 52 weeks ending Aug. 9, according to SPINS, a Schaumberg-Ill.-based market-research firm. Sales of baking mixes rose like an over-yeasted loaf of honey whole wheat; they grew by 24.5 percent in that time period to reach nearly $9 million.
When it comes to baking mixes, "They want taste. And they want easy," says Ashley Bistrand, consumer and trade marketing manager for Burlington, Mass.-based Cherrybrook Kitchen, manufacturer of fresh, not frozen gluten-free mixes. Now, they have options.
Fresh, not frozen
"Our No. 1 best seller is our Favorite Sandwich Bread Mix," says Tina Yanbestian, marketing director at Gluten-Free Pantry, which produces 16 different mixes in Montreal. Already-baked gluten-free breads on the market come frozen, and "aren't exactly the best-tasting bread in the world," so customers really appreciate a bake-at-home, fresh-bread option, she explains. "There will always be a demand for gluten-free bread mixes. If you've ever tried a slice of frozen gluten-free bread, you'll know what I mean," she says. "You just can't match the home-baked."
Most of the gluten-free bread mixes are suitable for bread machines and for hand-baking. Pamela Giusto-Sorrells burned out five bread machines during the eight years she spent developing the Amazing Wheat-Free Bread Mix for Pamela's Products. Giusto-Sorrells, president, founder and product developer for the Ukiah, Calif., company, wanted to be sure the bread stood up to her high taste and natural standards and that it was easy to make, says Stephanie Robbins, director of marketing at Pamela's Products, who sacrificed her bread machine to the cause.
The sweetest thing(s)
Even the most gluten-intolerant sweet tooth can find satisfaction among the selection of dessert and snack mixes. To name just a few: Chocolate Truffle Brownie Mix and Spice Cake & Gingerbread Mix from Gluten-Free Pantry, Pamela's Chocolate Chunk Cookie Mix, Chocolate Brownie Mix and Chocolate Cake Mix from Bob's Red Mill, Sugar Cookie Mix from Cherrybrook Kitchen, and Simply Organic's banana bread, chai spice scone and cocoa biscotti mixes.
Gluten-intolerant people can now enjoy the icing on the cake, too. Cherrybrook Kitchen and Pamela's offer gluten-free frosting mixes; Pamela's even has a "confetti" flavor so you can slather some color on your cupcakes. The flavor is an example of how companies have branched out from basic brownies and breads. Pamela's offers a crêpe mix, while Gluten Free Pantry makes mixes for Yankee Cornbread and Olive Oil & Garlic Croutons. Cox, of Milwaukie, Ore.-based Bob's Red Mill, says the pizza crust mix the company introduced last year "has been selling like crazy."
Embracing the apron
"For years, our tagline was, ‘Welcome back to your kitchen,'" says Robbins of Pamela's, whose pancake and baking mix is the top-selling natural baking mix, even among gluten-inclusive products. The mixes open the oven door for gluten-intolerant bakers to experiment on their own. "We've been really inspired by what people create with our mixes," she says. "We were stunned with how many recipes we got for our recipe contest, everything from crackers and dumplings to monkey bread." Mainstream eaters have been experimenting and experiencing a sort of "food revolution," slowing down and enjoying natural, good foods. "Gluten-intolerant people get these same messages from the media," she says. The gluten-free mixes provide some ammo for the revolution.
Mixing up your shelves
When possible, put all the gluten-free products together in one place in your store, Cox says. "We've found that sales go up when the products can be displayed in a dedicated space, even if it's just a few feet."
Cross-merchandizing the mixes with baking accessories also inspires customers, says Robbins of Pamela's Products. "Create an end cap with cake and frosting mixes and cake decorating supplies, cupcake papers and candles," she says. "And demos are always a great strategy; try mini-muffins." If you don't have time or gluten-free space in your kitchen, many manufacturers are happy to provide samples for "passive" demos, she says, allowing your customers to indulge in yet another inalienable American right: free samples.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 8/p. 1,22