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Article: Gluten-Free In Transition
Author: Keith Nunes, Sosland Publishing

Mel Festejo, Chief Operating Officer for American Key Food Products, Closter, N.J., said three years ago the issue wasn’t quality — it was availability.

“Since then, more gluten-free businesses have emerged in the last five years, most of which are in the baking segment,” he said. “The entry of co-packers into certified gluten-free operations has given momentum to this growth. This growth meant that consumers have more abundant choices for a wide variety of gluten-free products. Quality has become the top priority. Consumers have come to expect truly good products, not just tolerable ones.”

From a product perspective, Mr. Festejo said gluten-free bread and bread mixes are still the most sought after gluten-free product.

“Given that this is the most difficult gluten-free application, only a small number of companies dominate this segment,” he said. “As formulators get exposed to more ingredients and acquire a better understanding of their functionalities, growth could even accelerate further.

“Savory snacks are another fast-growing segment, mainly because there are already plenty of successful brands of conventional gluten-free snack products. Capitalizing on the increased consumer awareness for gluten-free products for health considerations, the mainstream brands have embraced the gluten-free labeling of their products. They have also started to incorporate non-traditional, natural ingredients to further enhance the healthy image of their products.”

Mr. Festejo noted that a common misperception among product formulators is that starches and flours from the same source are the same and that they have the same characteristics and functionalities.

“This misperception is often what prevents some companies from taking the quality of their products up a notch since they fail to appreciate the distinctions and, consequently, what functional benefits, say, a flour may provide versus the starch,” he said. “This is especially true with flours and starches from plants that are not grown in the U.S.”