Any doubts that the gluten-free boom has gone mainstream were cast to the wind last month, when retailing behemoth Wal-Mart began requiring all suppliers to identify gluten in Great Value products, the company?s private-label line.
Retailing experts believe Wal-Mart is hoping to lure the approximately 2 million Americans who suffer from celiac disease—an intolerance to the glutens found in wheat, rye, barley and other grains—away from the natural and organic stores that have traditionally dominated the gluten-free market.
?It?s never a positive thing when Wal-Mart paints a target on your back,? said Kevin Coupe, who covers the retail business on his Web site, www.morningnews beat.com. ?But on the other hand, anything that makes suppliers and manufacturers pay attention to what is obviously an important issue can mean good news.?
For retailers who stock gluten-free products, celiac sufferers are only the tip of the iceberg. Gluten-free products have also gained favor with people on low-carb diets and those trying to avoid secondary chemical compounds found in wheat and dairy.
In the past, the gluten-free label has often meant tasteless, unappealing foods. But the last five years have seen a great deal of growth in the category. Now, people on gluten-free diets have a wide array of products to choose from, including pizza, ice cream and pasta.
According to Wal-Mart, 982 of the company?s 1,254 food products have been identified as gluten-free.
?[To compete], natural and specialty stores are going to have to offer more products in this category, offer more education and perhaps even lower prices,? Coupe said.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 9/p. 22