Laval, Canada—SmartBalance, Inc., marketer of the natural foods brand EarthBalance, has purchased Glutino Food Group (Glutino) from Claridge Natural Foods for $66.3 million. Claridge, a Montreal-based investment firm, transfered 100% equity interest in Importations DE-RO-MA, which owns Glutino, over to SmartBalance. Glutino is an established presence in the gluten-free market, with offerings under the Glutino and Gluten Free Pantry brand names.

Shelf-stable and frozen gluten-free products available from Glutino include snack foods, frozen baked goods, frozen entrees and baking mixes. For the fiscal year ended March 31, 2011, Glutino reported annual sales of $53.9 million. The acquisition constitutes an addition to the SmartBalance portfolio of health and wellness brands, which include EarthBalance and the BestLife weight management brand. “This is not a synergy type of acquisition, this is, ‘How do we put more gas in the tank?’” says Steve Hughes, chairman and CEO of SmartBalance, Inc.

The existing Glutino management team, led by Terence Dalton, will stay in place with the goal of executing the gluten free business plans it had set out for itself. Though Hughes sees the ability to combine the resources of each division as an asset, the current goal is to guide the gluten free side further along its current path, including the introduction of the Genius Bread brand of gluten free bread to the United States.

The acquisition comes at a time when the gluten free market is fragmented but growing, as described by Hughes, with retail sales figures now topping $2 billion. “This whole gluten-free space is so fascinating. It’s very much like organic was in the 90s,” he says. From true Celiac’s Disease sufferers, to a larger group that may have a slight gluten intolerance, to an even larger segment of the population that is beginning to view gluten as something to avoid when possible, the category has much room to grow. States Hughes, “It’s not like the manufacturers are out in front of the consumer trends on this. People are just trying to meet the consumer demand.”

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2011 (online 8/11/11)