Gluten-free food sales could balloon after fresh research from the University of Hawaii has identified a new condition known as gluten sensitivity, which responds positively to a gluten-free diet.
"Gluten sensitivity could affect many more people than coeliac disease," said Professor David Sanders, consultant gastroenterologist at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital and University of Sheffield. "In evolutionary terms, gluten is a relatively new foodstuff for the digestive system and we have noticed a trend of increased diagnosis of gluten-related disorders over the past decade.
"Research in this area is beginning to support what individuals have been saying: that cutting gluten from the diet can improve their symptoms even if they do not have clinically proven coeliac disease. By defining gluten sensitivity we are able to put a name to the collective symptoms from which people have been suffering for years; this could potentially benefit millions of people worldwide."
The predicted incidence of gluten sensitivity exceeds the more commonly known gluten-related disorders, such as coeliac disease and wheat allergy. If the research leads to more people becoming aware of the condition, Europe's top selling gluten-free food brand, Dr Schär, believes that could boost sales in the sector.
The firm reckons that could result in an incremental category value of £25M a year and add an extra £100M in sales by 2015.
"We've already seen many non-coeliacs opting for a gluten-free diet, and benefiting from it; however, with the recent recognition of gluten sensitivity, a greater portion of the population will be trialling gluten-free products," said Emma Herring, retail brand manager at Dr Schär. "In a difficult economic climate, this is a lucrative sector for retailers and as awareness of this condition grows, support behind gluten-free becomes even more imperative."