According to consumer reports, Americans are expected to spend upwards of $15 billion a year by 2016 on gluten-free foods, a trend supported by the nearly 18 million Americans who report having a gluten sensitivity. However, many consumers don’t understand which foods (ingredients, dietary supplements, spices, and condiments) contain gluten, and how to correctly identify gluten-free food when shopping and eating out.
According to a recent consumer survey conducted by public health and safety organization, NSF International, more than half of consumers (54 percent) define gluten incorrectly or are just not sure what it is. One out of five survey respondents define it as either a protein found in all carbohydrates or simply as wheat. Additionally, a quarter of consumers (26 percent) mistakenly believe products that are wheat-free are also gluten-free, incorrectly identifying rice (47 percent) and potatoes (34 percent) as containing gluten and not realizing the problematic protein can be found in spices/flavoring (75 percent) and dietary supplements (62 percent).
The survey suggests a need for education and a clearer way to identify gluten-free food and ingredients for Americans that desire a gluten-free diet. This knowledge gap on where gluten is found can become problematic for those looking to buy gluten-free. According to NSF International, the best way for consumers to determine if a product is truly gluten-free is through a third-party gluten-free verification, which is represented as a seal or mark on packaged goods, such as NSF’s.
FULL SURVEY FINDINGS
While most consumers have heard of gluten, few can properly define it.
– Most Americans (90%) have heard of gluten, but about half (54%) define gluten incorrectly or are simply not sure what it is.
o One out of five (20%) define it incorrectly as either a protein found in all carbohydrates or as simply wheat.
o One-quarter of consumers (26%) mistakenly believe products that are wheat-free are also gluten-free.
– Just one-third of consumers (35%) were are able to accurately identify gluten as a protein found in wheat and related grains, such as barley and rye.
– Sixty-two percent of consumers between the ages of 18-34 say they know what gluten is (whether it is right or wrong), compared with forty-eight percent of those 65+.
Many consumers cannot correctly identify which products contain gluten and which do not.
– Respondents incorrectly identified rice (47 percent) and potatoes (34 percent) as containing gluten.
– Conversely, processed foods that often contain gluten, such as beer (41%) and salad dressings (58%) were not identified by consumers as containing gluten.
– Additionally, the survey found that many don’t realize gluten can be found in spices/flavorings (75%) and dietary supplements (62%).
This knowledge gap on where gluten is found can become problematic for those looking to buy gluten-free.
– Consumers rely on their knowledge about ingredients containing gluten to make purchasing decisions, despite their misunderstanding about what ingredients contain gluten.
o According to the survey, nearly half (46%) would first view the list of ingredients on product packaging to confirm whether a product contains gluten.
There is a misconception about what gluten-free labeling means to consumers.
– Half (54%) of Americans incorrectly believe products that use the words ‘gluten-free’ on the label have been verified to be free from all gluten.
o This is also the case with restaurants and bakeries where items might be marked as gluten-free.
– The best way for consumers to determine if a product is truly gluten-free is through a third-party gluten-free verification which is represented as a seal or mark on packaged goods.
o However only one-third (31%) of consumers would look for a gluten-free seal or mark on packaging as the first step to determining whether a product contains gluten or not.
o Younger adults (18–34; 36%) are more likely than older Americans (65+; 25%) to look for a gluten-free seal or mark first to determine whether or not a product contains gluten.
Consumers adopt a gluten-free lifestyle for a variety of reasons.
– The top reason consumers cite for being gluten-free is having a gluten allergy or sensitivity that causes stomach pain, such as bloating, vomiting, or intestinal issues (19%).
– Twelve percent of consumers say they eat a gluten-free diet because it makes them feel healthier.
– Nine percent of Americans self-identify as having Celiac disease, which is the reason they avoid gluten.
– Younger adults (18-34) are more likely than older Americans (65+) to follow a gluten-free diet to lose weight (11% vs. 5%, respectively).
Consumers struggle with who regulates gluten and by how much.
– About two-in-five Americans (43%) correctly believe that the government regulates gluten-free claims made on processed foods, while one-third (33%) incorrectly believe the government regulates claims made on restaurant and bakery menus.