Gluten-Free Was Just the Beginning – How Your Brand Can Prepare for Consumers' Grain-Free Demands
The gluten-free trend was just the beginning. Now some consumers are going against the grain, with consumer demand on the rise for grain-free offerings.1 Savvy CPG manufacturers are taking note of this interesting trend, which is likely to expand over the next year.
The label “gluten-free” applies to foods with ingredients that do not contain the protein gluten,2 commonly found in grains like wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. Some grains are inherently gluten-free, like rice, corn, and oat, as well as quinoa, spelt, sorghum, and amaranth. However, any foods that make the claim of being “gluten-free” must comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s standards for the claim, which require the food to contain less than 20 ppm gluten to carry the label.3
“Grain-free” takes things a bit further, referring to foods that do not contain or come from grains, such as those derived from pulses and beans – like chickpea flour, fava bean flour, and lentil flour. Grain-free ingredients like these are of increasing interest to customers, with nearly 1 in 3 consumers looking to eat pulses more often in the coming year.4
Overall, data indicates an upward trend in interest for gluten-free and grain-free options in addition to traditional, gluten-containing foods.5 About 6% of consumers currently include gluten-free foods in their diet, and 9% plan to start.6 Our experts estimate we could see as much as a 150% increase in the number of consumers that claim they will eat more grain-free foods this year.
In response to growing interest in this once niche, now more mainstream, product preference, CPG manufacturers are introducing grain-free products at a higher rate.7 Between 2017 and 2021, there was a 7.3% increase in new food and beverage product launches with grain-free positioning or claims (excluding pet food),8 with the bakery category in part leading this growth.
These numbers send a signal that the enthusiasm for grain-free is going to continue to grow in the future. CPG manufacturers looking to stay ahead of grain-free demand are already taking the following actions by bringing their own brands of innovation to present-day opportunities.
Capturing consumer interest with grain-free
Consumers seek out gluten-free and grain-free options for many reasons. For the 1% of people in the United States with celiac disease and the 3% with non-celiac gluten sensitivity,9 consuming gluten can be a health concern, so they avoid it.10,11 For the rest of the population, interest in these products stems from a desire to try something new and explore the perceived benefits of including gluten-free and grain-free foods in their diet.12
In particular, consumers are seeking out grain-free food items in the bakery category.13 According to our latest data, there was a 12.5% increase in the number of new grain-free products launched across the bakery category between 2017 and 2021. Equally fascinating to brands looking to innovate across the bakery category is that baked goods boasted a 22% share of new grain-free products during that same period of time. Within the bakery category, the product types that experienced the greatest growth include Savory Biscuits (+33% CAGR), Cakes (32%), and Sweet Biscuits/Cookies (+16%).14
Successful examples of grain-free products, like the following, bring unique flavors and textures to the shelf with grain-free, gluten-free ingredients.
- Mission Grain-Free Flour Tortillas feature a grain-free flour mix of tapioca starch, potato starch, and pea protein.15
- Simple Mills Cookies feature a grain-free flour mix of almond flour, coconut flour, and flaxseeds.16
- Against the Grain Bagels feature a grain-free flour mix of tapioca starch and cheese.17
Pursuing possibilities with plant proteins
CPG manufacturers would be wise to be on the lookout for innovation opportunities in grain-free products that deliver plant protein, a food characteristic that nearly 7 in 10 U.S. consumers report wanting to increase in their diet.18
Plant protein has surfaced as an area of focus for brands looking to innovate as it’s relatively common for consumers to indicate they are making purposeful food choices around eating more plant protein, and that sentiment is poised to increase – with 1 in 5 consumers already eating more plant protein, and another 1 in 10 claiming they will start within the next three months.19
Many sources of plant protein – such as rice, quinoa, millet, and different nuts and seeds (like almonds and chias) – are naturally gluten-free, but only a select few are grain-free, too; these include lentils, chickpeas, beans, and soybeans. According to our research, consumers perceive beans and lentils as the top two sources for plant protein.20
Grain-free products that make the most of plant protein are already on the market; notable examples include:
- Peak Performance Plant Based Grain-Free Protein Powder, made with pea protein and white chia protein.21
- Forager Grain-Free Cereal, made with navy beans and pea protein.22
- Thrive Market Grain-Free Nacho Puffs, made with navy bean meal.23
Exploring the power of pulses
Pulses – the edible, dried seeds of plants in the legume family – include lentils, beans, chickpeas, and peas, all of which can be used to make gluten-free and grain-free food products. Products that embrace the power of pulses will play well with the many consumers who associate pulses like lentils and fava beans with positive food attributes, such as functional foods, wild foods, and sustainable solutions, as well as convenience and optimized performance.24
For example, consumers indicate that they have favorable perceptions of the “healthiness” of lentil flour as an ingredient, which drives the purchase of products that include it. Our data indicates this healthy perception leads to a positive net purchase impact of as much as 18% for lentils.25 Chickpeas – both chickpeas in general (37%) and chickpea protein (41%)26 – also boast a strong “good for you” consumer perception.
The demand for products with these ingredients drives the ever-increasing number of products manufacturers are bringing to the marketplace. Need proof? The number of new retail products that include lentil and/or fava bean as an ingredient and grain-free positioning or claims has doubled between 2017 and 2021.27
Several successful grain-free products that make clever use of pulses as main ingredients for chips, pasta, and more, include the following:
- Enjoy Life Lentil Chips, with lentil flour as the primary ingredient.28
- Banza Macaroni and Cheese, with chickpeas as the primary ingredient.29
- HIPPEAS Sea Salt Tortilla Chips, with chickpea flour as the primary ingredient.30
Creating excellent gluten-free and grain-free experiences
When navigating the world of foods with gluten-free and grain-free ingredients, the key theme for customers is always “choice.” Consumers are tasting, testing, and trying out new things, and they’re interested in unique and innovative combinations of gluten-free and grain-free products. Make sure you are meeting your customers not only where they are but where they want to be. You can explore the most intriguing possibilities by partnering with a leading supplier like Ardent Mills.
Ardent Mills is committed to being an industry-leading supplier, offering our customers the ingredients required to meet the consumer demands of today and tomorrow. We have enhanced capabilities to help you meet the needs of your consumers, and our team of dedicated R&D and technical experts will partner with you to find the right product solutions, – all backed by our coast-to-coast supply assurance and exceptional localized support and services.
Get in touch with an Ardent Mills Rep today! Call (888) 680-0013
1Ardent Mills Proprietary Research
2“Gluten-free diet,” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/gluten-free-diet/art-20048530
3“Questions and Answers on the Gluten-Free Food Labeling Final Rule,” United States Food and Drug Administration, https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/questions-and-answers-gluten-free-food-labeling-final-rule
4Ardent Mills Proprietary Research
5Ardent Mills Proprietary Research
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8Ardent Mills Proprietary Research
9“Gluten-Free Labeling of Foods,” United States Food and Drug Administration, updated March 7, 2022. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/gluten-free-labeling-foods
10“Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: All wheat attack is not celiac,” National Library of Medicine, October 28, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5677194/
11Alexander, Jonathan S, Ansari, Junaid, Boktor, Moheb, Gavins, Felicity N, Igbinedion, Samuel O, Jordan, Paul, and Vasikaran, Anush. “Gluten-Free Labeling of Foods,” United States Food and Drug Administration, https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/gluten-free-labeling-foods
12Ardent Mills Proprietary Research
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15Any mention of third-party brands does not imply an affiliation with Ardent Mills.
16Any mention of third-party brands does not imply an affiliation with Ardent Mills.
17Any mention of third-party brands does not imply an affiliation with Ardent Mills.
18“Plant-based eating: Nearly seven of 10 Americans trying to increase plant protein consumption,” IFF, updated November 17, 2021. https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/News/Promotional-Features/MEGATREND-Plant-based-eating-Nearly-seven-of-10-Americans-trying-to-increase-plant-protein-consumption
19Ardent Mills Proprietary Research
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21Any mention of third-party brands does not imply an affiliation with Ardent Mills.
22Any mention of third-party brands does not imply an affiliation with Ardent Mills.
23Any mention of third-party brands does not imply an affiliation with Ardent Mills.
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27Ardent Mills Proprietary Research
28Any mention of third-party brands does not imply an affiliation with Ardent Mills.
29Any mention of third-party brands does not imply an affiliation with Ardent Mills.
30Any mention of third-party brands does not imply an affiliation with Ardent Mills.