CNS Canada –– Increased demand by Canadians for gluten-free products had an impact on the wheat industry, leading reduced sales and experiments with new ways to feed the market. Now, industry specialists have mixed opinions on the future of gluten-free.
Almost a third of Canadians, 10 million people, are seeking out gluten-free products, according to a report from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. More than seven million consumers perceive gluten-free foods to be a healthier choice.
The wheat industry experienced a slight drop in demand due to the popularity of gluten-free food, according to Blair Rutter, executive director for the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association in Winnipeg.
But Rutter said the craze is starting to reverse.
“Obviously there’s people with celiac disease that have to avoid gluten, and others with some sensitivities to gluten, but it has been overplayed. What we’re seeing is a rebound in demand as more people realize that the concerns were largely unfounded,” Rutter said.
In Canada, one per cent of Canadians have celiac disease, a digestive reaction to gluten, and six per cent have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Heather Maskus is the project manager for pulse flour milling and applications at the Canadian International Grains Institute. She uses pulses to create gluten-free foods in a organization that is 90 per cent focused on wheat.
Maskus isn’t sure if the trend will continue to grow. “Some large companies that really focus on wheat flour milling say it seems to be tapering off a bit,” she said.
“Companies that were really immersed in gluten-free products, their perception is that it’s growing.”
Despite the impact gluten-free had, or could continue to have on demand, Canadian pulse growers can capitalize on the trend, she said.
“Pulses are very high in protein and fibre. Gluten-free foods are typically lacking in it,” she said.
“With the growing market in gluten-free we saw a really good opportunity to combine the two together to understand more about pulse ingredients.”
— Jade Markus writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.