The gluten-free presence in QSRs and Fast Casuals won’t end anytime soon

Many thought the gluten-free revolution would fizzle out as nothing more than a foodservice fad. But when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided official labeling standards for “gluten-free” this past August, restaurants from coast-to-coast began to realize how important, and culturally accepted, this dietary need has become.

Betsy Craig, founder/CEO of MenuTrinfo LLC and Kitchens with Confidence LLC, says, “For decades, the FDA has had definitions for sodium and heart-healthy, etc. There are 17 different designations based on nutritional content. Adding gluten-free as the 18th shows how important it is now to make sure if you’re serving something — and making money on something — gluten-free, that it’s verified all the way down to the sub-particles. People have been waiting a long time for that designation.”

Mintel Menu Insights recently reported a 200% increase in gluten-free menu instances since 2010. And Craig points out one example from Disney resorts, where special dietary requests in 2009 hovered around 300,000, and in 2012 they had more than doubled.

Mintel further discovered that it’s not just the gluten-intolerant who are adopting this dietary standard. It seems 65% of consumers are eating gluten-free foods as part of a healthier lifestyle and 27% do so to aid in weight loss programs.

Amanda Topper, a food analyst at Mintel Menu Insights, says, “It’s really interesting to see that consumers think gluten-free foods are healthier and can help them lose weight because there’s been no research affirming these beliefs. The view that these foods and beverages are healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts is a major driver for the market, as interest expands across both gluten-sensitive and health-conscious consumers.”

QSRs and fast casuals are now capitalizing on these recent findings – looking for their share of an increasing market trend. The gluten-free food and beverage market is estimated to reach $10.5 billion in 2013.

Craig says, “It’s a win/win situation — for restaurants and customers. The restaurant is offering more choices and the diners are choosing the restaurants that offer more choices.”