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Estimated Celiac Sprue sufferers in the USA: Mary Schluckebier, executive director of the Celiac Sprue Association, said about 1 percent of the U.S population is afflicted with the genetic profile for Celiac Sprue. Of that 1 percent in the States, about 30 percent, only one-third of the 1 percent, will actually materialize the disease because it is not carried on one single gene.

Elaine Monarch of the Celiac Foundation agrees with the CSA that the number of people with Celiac is lower than 1 percent. Although about 300,000 are afflicted with Celiac disease in this country, another 150,000 are estimated to be undiagnosed. This estimate never goes above 250,000. The reason it is an estimate is because Celiac Sprue is an unreported disease – the CDC does not require its tracking by hospitals or doctors so there is no way to measure the actual number.

The Mayo Clinic reports that only 0.71 percent have Celiac Sprue in the USA and Columbia University reported that only 0.55 percent have gluten sensitivity or non-Celiac sensitivity.

Market decline

According to Packaged Facts, the gluten-free (GF) market has peaked. And in the past two years, it has failed to attract new users. Some 18 percent of consumers bought a GF food/drink in the past 3 months, up only 3 percent vs. 2010, according to their "Gluten-Free Foods in the US" report. Just 35 percent buy GF foods believing they are healthier (the No. 1 reason) down from 46 percent two years ago. Those buying GF products thinking they are higher quality fell from 24 percent in 2010 to 18 percent. Consumers who think GF is a gimmick doubled (11 to 24 percent); 20 percent say GF is a fad. As the market turns towards those who must remain medically gluten-free, growth rates are projected to drop to 10 percent in 2012-15 and 7 percent in 2016-17.

Symphony IRI reports that growth rates of key label claims — organic, natural, and gluten-free — are leveling off. In the Executive briefing "What's In Store for Health & Wellness?" sales growth rates of products featuring several high-profile claims slowed in 2012. Gluten-free's growth rate in 2012 was cut by more than half its 2009-2011 growth with sales performance at 8.8 percent in 2012 vs. 21.2 percent 2009-2011.

NPD reports that gluten free growth remains small. About 28 percent of adults 18 and older reported they are avoiding gluten, a 1-percent increase since 2010. In a survey taken from January to September 2012, 26 percent of adults 18 to 59 years old said they were avoiding gluten, up from 24 percent in 2010. Similarly, 30 percent of adults over 55 said they were avoiding gluten, up from 29 percent in 2010. About 1 percent of consumers indicated they had ordered food described on a menu as gluten-free or wheat free.

Researchers have also uncovered that gluten purchases are not always intentional or desired. Hartman was the first to discover this when they reported that 53 percent who bought gluten-free did not know the product was gluten-free and had no intention of buying gluten-free. Packaged Facts too found that 31 percent of consumers said some products that they buy for other reasons happened to be marked gluten-free however, gluten-free was not a desired quality.

Hartman was the first to report that 95 percent of consumers who followed a gluten-free diet stated they did not have Celiac Sprue and were not gluten intolerant. According to Mintel, 65 percent of consumers who eat or used to eat gluten-free foods do so because they think they are healthier, 27 percent eat them because they believe they cause weight loss. As this misinformation is corrected and consumers become educated on the use of a gluten free diet – the number of consumers abandoning the diet will rise.

Adversaries to the trend

The gluten-free trend currently has 65 adversarial groups being track and the number is growing. It also has no allies in that there are no health experts recommending this diet to anyone who does not medically need the diet. The adversaries include noted registered dietitians, nutritionists, medical doctors and PhD's, the FDA, the British Dietetics Association, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Adversarial groups do not wish to crash the trend but to reposition it toward its intended audience. Their concerns include nutritional deficiencies, fiber deficiencies, immune system harm, probiotic destruction, and empty calories. Monash University reported that nutritional inadequacy of gluten-free diets were found in newly diagnosed and longterm celiac patients. Research from the University of Arizona and the Spanish National Research Council found that a GF diet sets up a hostile environment for probiotics, healthy gut bacteria, by eliminating their food – prebiotics. This then can lead to lower immune cell production and further digestive issues. Oregon State University reported in 2013 that gut bacteria are closely linked to immune functions.

Bottom Line

  • This trend is on the decline. If the decision is made to enter the trend either: Prepare to downsize production as the trend downsizes to the appropriate audience, ~500,000 consumers; Have a fast acting exit strategy.
  • Focus on sales numbers and behavioral research, not product launch data. The decline in purchasing will precede launch declines.
  • Focus on the trends trajectory, not what your competitors are doing.
  • Don't shoot the messenger.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Don Fox
    Excellent objective update!
  • Scott Adams
    You may want to recheck your numbers--there are over 300 million people in this country--if 1% have celiac disease that is 3 million and not 300,000! You are also forgetting the ~15% of people of have Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), which yeilds another ~45 million people. Scott Adams
  • Pete Buscani
    You should also take into consideration the number of people who choose to eat gluten free as a lifestyle choice. I can't find any numbers to specify how many there are, but they're out there- they order our GF pizzas every day.
  • Suzy Badaracco
    I appreciate your passion for the trend - allow me to address the misunderstandings which have arisen: 1) the numbers given for CS of 300,000 and 150,000 are not mine, but the holders of the most accurate numbers for the disease. The second group claims less than 1% which means the two leading experts agree it is between 300,000 - less than 3,000,000. Mayo clinic agrees with this range at 0.71% so numbers are not inaccurate. Check your math. 2) there is no clinical evidence of 15% non celiac gluten sensitivity - it is 0.55% as stated. Again, contact the researchers directly. 3) the consumers who have chosen to eat this diet for non medical reasons are the ones who are abandoning the diet now as they become aware that it is neither "healthful" nor for weight loss. This abandonment is already being captured in the research quoted. Don't make the mistake of getting emotional over a trend - emotions will fog the true path of a trend and a company can be blindsided when it shifts.
  • Tracy Grabowski
    I believe you have misunderstood the data and made some assumptions here. I agree that people without Celiac disease or Non Celiac Gluten Intolerance made be abandoning the diet...(similarly as they eventually abandoned the Sonoma or Atkins, etc.) But, contrary to your statements, the numbers are UP on the needs of the gluten free market, and expected to continue to rise as better diagnosis becomes available. Dr. Joseph Murray, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and his team studied blood samples. His research confirms estimates that about 1 percent of U.S. adults have it today, making it four times more common now than it was 50 years ago. 1% translates to about 1.8 million Americans with celiac disease, with about 1.4 million people with the condition who may not be aware they even have it yet. This data is published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology. See:
  • Scott Adams
    Actually the accepted number for those with celiac disease in the USA is around 3 Million people. Even if we use your Mayo Clinic number of 0.71% we still get 2.13 Million, but your numbers in the article are way off, and this has nothing to do with me getting "emotional," just trying to correct a serious error. As for Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, the numbers are much higher, although more research needs to be done: "Imran Aziz and colleagues look to the published literature to resolve these uncertainties (doi:10.1136/bmj.e7907). Compared with coeliac disease, gluten sensitivity has been little researched, but a few randomised trials suggest that this is a real condition, affecting 6% of nearly 6000 people tested in a Maryland clinic. " which says: "NCGS is remarkably common. In a population-based survey presented at the UEGW meeting by Imran Aziz, MD, also of Royal Hallamshire Hospital, the self-reported prevalence of gluten sensitivity was 13%. " I do believe your premise is correct--the market has likely peaked for gluten-free foods, but your numbers are not even close to correct. About 20% of people in the USA have the genetic markers that could lead to celiac disease, so it should come as no surprise that NCGS figures are so high.
  • Scott Adams
    PS - for the current polulation of the USA please see: which indicates: 316,128,839 This means if 1% have CD = 3.161 Million
  • Marilyn Geller
    Please note that Elaine Monarch was never interviewed for this article, nor are the quoted statistics correct. Celiac Disease Foundation"s Medical Advisory Board states that there are approximately 3 million Americans living with celiac disease, with at least 83% undiagnosed. Visit for more information. Marilyn Geller, CEO Celiac Disease Foundation
  • Josh Dellen
    Sloppy journalism here--As noted by others, if roughly 1% of the US population has celiac disease, that's about 2.5 to 3 million people. Almost every celiac expert puts the number in that range. It is irresponsible to present the much lower outlier number (300,000) as the accepted figure when only one organization (CSA) makes that claim (which, for the record, I'm skeptical the article got that right--from the CSA website under the "What is CeIiac disease" page: "Approximately 1 in 133 people have CD"--that's cut and pasted directly from the CSA website.) If for some reason the CSA also claims the 300,000 number, it really should be placed in proper context that the vast majority of experts believe the number is 8 to 10x higher. It is irresponsible to mislead with that number for the purposes of supporting an argument.
  • Karen McFadden
    I hope that those putting out the decent gluten free products (Udi's is decent and fairly priced, for one) will remember that there are those who truly need the products and will continue to make them more palatable and to offer variety so that those with Celiac Sprue aren't forced into a lifetime of bad baked goods. Good info about the probiotics, I will pass that along to my husband and mother in law. I also try to warn people going "gluten free" for no reason that the products contain little or no fiber, at least in my extensive shopping excursions to feed my family.
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Latest posts by Suzy Badaracco
Suzy Badaracco
Suzy Badaracco is a toxicologist, chef, and registered dietitian. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Criminalistics, an Associates degree in Culinary Arts, and a Masters of Science degree in Human Nutrition.
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