Harleysville, PA—A recent webinar conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) revealed some interesting trends about who’s buying gluten-free foods and why. Hosted by managing partner Maryellen Molyneaux and vice-president of strategic innovation Diane Ray, the webinar presented findings from NMI’s Gluten Free 2015 report.

Gluten-free foods have penetrated 49% of U.S. households, which wouldn’t be possible if it was just those with food sensitivities buying in. In fact, when gluten-free buyers covered by the survey were asked why they chose gluten-free products, only 6% said because of celiac disease, and when questioned about the volume of gluten-free products they consumed, only 11% said they were adhering to a totally gluten-free diet. “Overall health” and “buying gluten-free once in a while” topped their respective categories. This was also reflected in ranking of categories under the gluten-free umbrella. In addition to the traditional breads and cereals, gluten-free snacks had also experienced sales growth. Gluten-free baby food ranked at the bottom.

After dividing the gluten-free consumers into five categories based on their lifestyle and frequency, two of the categories were selected as ideal targets for gluten-free companies in the future. The first group, dubbed “Well Beings,” made 19% of gluten-free sales, and were described as the customer that is “already in the market,” being well informed of food choices they can make for their health and maintaining an active lifestyle as possible. While it is not surprising they are the “primary target,” the secondary target were the “Magic Bullets.” While these consumers have an interest in gluten free, the actual level of work they put in is dead in the middle of the five categories. The reason they are the secondary target, according to the webinar, is that they occupy the largest share of the gluten-free base at 23% of sales.

When asked what led them to try gluten-free products, 31% of those surveyed said they did so on the recommendation of a friend or family member. 27% tried gluten-free after reading about it, while only 20% were recommended by a doctor and 17% by nutritionists. In addition, Millennials reported they were buying gluten-free at levels that didn’t match up to the actual purchases they made. Molyneaux believed that while this demonstrates a large gluten-free interest from this group, financial reasons may be keeping them from fully acting on their interest.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, August 2015, (online 7/4/15)