A major fixture in the gluten-free community, the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), turns 40 this year. Its efforts to serve, inform and connect those who follow a gluten-free diet are rapidly expanding, including the continued rise of its product certification program known as the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO).

“Gluten free has come such a long way. For the gluten-free community to get to this level, it’s amazing for everybody. GIG had the vision 40 years ago that this is something that people need. We’re happy to see the community thriving,” says Chris Rich, director of brand management for GIG. The group is based in Auburn, WA, and has local branches all over the country. Rich says there are around 100 local, volunteer-run support groups in 36 different states, which people use to connect, get recipes and share information.

This network of gluten-free individuals and their loved ones is going international, Rich says, as GIG is in conversation with communities in Latin America and beyond. GIG reaches out and helps in other ways, such as sponsoring kids’ attendance at gluten-free camps. “We’re looking into really expanding our kids programs,” Rich says. The support groups are currently very adult focused, and GIG wants to create the opportunity for kids and teenagers to meet peers who have celiac disease or gluten tolerance issues.

GIG also has a gluten-free food services division, which offers cafeterias, hospitals, restaurants and other venues the opportunity to go through a gluten-free certification process. This program features annual renewals and staff training. Rich says the group is looking to expand these efforts toward engaging schools and colleges.

The industry side of the equation is growing by leaps and bounds, Rich says. When one company certifies its product through GFCO, it seems three of its competitors always see it and quickly follow suit. As a result, the GFCO symbol has become a common sight on product labels. “Personally, I have a son with celiac disease who’s 13, and as a parent, you look for that label,” Rich says. Over 21,000 GFCO-certified products are available in 27 countries on six continents. GFCO added many dozens of new companies to its roster at the recent Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore.

GIG has plans to hold a 40th anniversary celebration on November 9th in Tacoma, WA, at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center. The event will feature vendors promoting products, auctions, activities for kids, a gluten-free beer garden and more.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, November 2014