Gluten-free brands look to shake off ‘dull and dusty’ image

While consumers continue to buy into the gluten-free trend, confusion surrounding the benefits of cutting gluten suggest brands need to do more to communicate their proposition and the lifestyle benefits and get rid of their ‘dull and dusty’ image in order to maintain the momentum.

Mrs Crimbles

Brands are increasingly looking to move into the gluten-free market due to growing consumer interest and strong sales.

In May Costa added a wrap to its growing gluten-free food range as part of an effort to “listen to what customers want to see on our menu” and target the one in 100 people who have coeliac disease in the UK.

May also saw the launch of älska in the UK, a Swedish gluten-free and vegan cider.

The gluten-free food category grew by 14.6% to £140m in 2014 according to data from Euromonitor. “Free-from” bread also saw sales rise by 24.8% to £35m year on year to 23 May, according to IRI data.

At the same time the mainstream bread category is declining, with sales down 9.4% year on year in 2014, although it is still worth £1.5bn.

Bianca Hall, insight manager at IRI, points out that while the gluten-free bread category has grown by double digits over the last five years it remains a small portion of the total bread market meaning there is still a lot of opportunity for brands.

The category is currently dominated by a few brands – with the top three best-selling products, all owned by Genius Gluten Free, making up 49% of gluten-free bread sales according to IRI.

“There’s still quite a bit of opportunity to grow,” Hall said, adding that the price of gluten-free bread is roughly three times more expensive than mainstream bread, representing a chance for brands to add value to the category.

Confusion in the category

While the trend is certainly on the rise, many consumers remain unclear about the benefits of going gluten-free and often equate the trend with healthy eating.

Claire Ramsey, marketing director for gluten-free brand Mrs. Crimbles, told Marketing Week: “There is a general perception that all gluten-free products are healthy, which is incorrect.

“A lot of consumers assume that it means low fat or beneficial for you in some way and are buying into the buzz but don’t understand the full ramifications of it.”

Hall said this is partly due to the fact that many brands aren’t educating consumers, adding that many products that wouldn’t normally contain gluten anyway add “gluten-free” to their labels in an effort to entice consumers.

She said that gluten-free brands need to focus on catering for those who may not have coeliac disease but still believe it’s better to go the gluten-free route.

“There’s more naysayers now in the market and skeptics with regards to free-from,” she said. “About every one in 100 people in the UK actually has coeliac disease or a reason to buy gluten-free but it’s not about only targeting those people.”

Ramsey also said there is an opportunity in the way the brands in the category are marketed, not only in their messaging but also their packaging.

“In the recent past [the category] has been rather dull and dusty,” she added. “We want to change that.”

Costa wraps
Costa has added wraps to its gluten-free range.

Targeting the gluten-free lifestyle

Genius Gluten Free is the top brand in the gluten-free bread category and had sales of £18.2m as of 23 May, up from £13.8m last year. It is one of the few brands which has tackled the issue to expand its consumer base.

The brand launched a digital campaign in May to educate consumers on the benefits of the gluten-free diet, the largest ever investment in marketing for the category.

Marketing director Steve Clarke said: “We’re already growing at double the rate of the category and through building brand awareness with our new campaign we’re confident we will continue to drive this growth forward.”

Mrs. Crimbles, which had the largest share (17.7%) of the total gluten-free food market in the UK in 2014 according to Euromonitor, is also looking to address this issue. It has introduced the “Gluten Free and Good For Me” range, which combines gluten-free positioning with a low fat, lower-calorie proposition.

Ramsey said the brand is focused on clear messaging and targeting by positioning itself both within the free-from category and to the mainstream consumer.

“People are more interested in gluten-free as a lifestyle choice rather than a need or intolerance. There’s an opportunity for products that are gluten-free but aren’t going to bust your diet,” she said.

The line includes 150-calorie fruit and cereal oat bars as well as a range of low fat pasta and sauce pouches. Ramsey said the brand will continue to innovate in order to “bring something new to the fixture”.