Gluten-free food consumption is one of the fastest growing trends across the world, with many health-conscious consumers consciously choosing a gluten-free lifestyle. In the US, the gluten-free product market was pegged at $10.5 billion in 2013, predicted to rise 48 per cent to $15.6 billion, by 2016, according to Euromonitor International.
But in India, the market is still at a nascent stage with lack or no awareness about the need or benefits of gluten-free diets.
Gluten is a protein present in wheat, barley, rye, and their derivatives. Some people are found to be sensitive to gluten and show mild symptoms of intolerance such as chronic diarrhea and vomiting, while some show typical symptoms of the condition named Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by the consumption of gluten that leads to extensive damage in the small intestine of genetically susceptible people.
“One in 1000 people are gluten-intolerant in India,” informs Amit Lohani, founder director, Forum of Indian Food Importers (FIFI).
“Though the number of those who cannot consume the gluten protein, either because they’re biologically intolerant to it, or for other health factors, are steadfastly on the rise in India, the awareness about the disease and availability of products is mind-numbingly low,” he adds.
Furthermore, many consumers do not know the difference between an allergy and intolerance. Consumers are either misdiagnosed or misdiagnosed entirely for the celiac disease, which is the major reason for unawareness in India.
Internationally, the Gluten-Free products market is experiencing a double-digit growth. The global gluten-free product market is projected to reach a value of $6,206.2 million, growing at a CAGR of 10.2 per cent by 2018, according to a research conducted by US market research company and consulting firm, Research and Markets.
“The reason for such a strong global demand is the easy availability. Entire aisles in US supermarkets are dedicated for the gluten-free products with wide varieties and brands. Plus these products are not seen as a specialty niche products; they are considered healthier than conventional products and thus have huge demand,” Lohani explains.
In India, the gluten-free products are only available at some online marketplaces like Amazon, Naturally Yours, Greencart etc or at specialty stores such as Godrej Nature’s Basket, Foodhall and HyperCity, among others.
Raghav Gupta, CEO and founder of Mumbai-based healthy wheat flour brand, JIWA, which also produces gluten-free flour, outlines the challenges and opportunities in this speciality food segment.
“For us, creating a gluten-free atta was a biggest challenge. We tried almost all the grains – ragi, corn, bajra, – but couldn’t develop the right binding and puffing. Now we made it from brown rice, Guar gum (which act as a binding agent) and Bengal gram. You can’t tell the difference between our other wheat flours and gluten-free wheat flour,” he explains.
JIWA products are available in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad, but largely on online retail stores and only a few offline stores. Gupta, however, discloses that JIWA gluten-free flour sells as much as the brand’s multi-grain variant.
Along with the manufacturing bottlenecks, from the demand side, a deterrent is the high price of these products. At JIWA, the price of gluten-free wheat flour Rs Rs 90/Kg.
“Well, the reason for high price is lack of demand, few brands and high freight cost in import of foreign brands. The price can only be regulated when more Indian brands start coming up with gluten-free products,” Lohani notes.
“I feel Indians are now more conscious about what they eat and what they buy. Consumers are now spending more on their health. The need of the hour is more home-grown brands, generating awareness and easy availability of products,” he adds.
“Nutritionists are now recommending these products; consumers are now coming to us asking for gluten-free products. In fact, many other brands are now innovating on gluten-free products,” Gupta says.
“By July, we will be expanding our offline retail presence in all major Indian cities. At the same time, we are working on competitive pricing so that the products also take off well in offline stores,” he adds.