Dietitians Play Critical Role in Driving Retail Gluten-Free Sales
Lindsay Arnett, MS, RD
Research shows that retail dietitians have an increasingly powerful voice when it comes to organization of their supermarket, product selection and purchasing decisions. This growth comes at a time when Americans are becoming more interested in the healthfulness of their food1, and nutrition trends, such as the gluten-free lifestyle, juicing and non-genetically modified foods, are impacting what products retailers stock and how they design their stores.
A gluten-free diet, in particular, has been adopted by many Americans, regardless of whether they are diagnosed with celiac disease or with non-celiac gluten sensitivity by their physician. With more than 30% of adults having reduced or eliminated gluten2 driving a 44% growth in the gluten-free market between 2011 and 20133, supermarkets are responding, often dedicating more than 100 feet of linear space to gluten-free products.4
Supermarkets are capitalizing on the gluten-free market in two distinct ways. This choice impacts retailer brand and RD communications related to gluten. Because leading retailers often vary the footprint at the store level to best address market-specific needs, the data on whether there are a sales or consumer preference is varied.
1. Gluten-free products incorporated into all sections of the store. In this format, shoppers can find gluten-free products shelved next to non-gluten-free products in each department of the store. It may help consumers diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity feel more like the average shopper since they do not need to visit a special section to purchase their food. Additionally, for those shopping for a family with mixed dietary requirements, this streamlines the shopping experience. However, it also requires these shoppers to do their due diligence when checking the ingredients labels and packaging for hidden sources of gluten.
2. Gluten-free products shelved in separate health/wellness section of store. Other stores are electing to include their gluten-free products in the health/wellness section of their store shelved by section with organic products, medical foods and other diet-specific selections. Consumers shopping for gluten-free products may appreciate the health halo these products inherently receive due to their placement in this section. However, they also may be avoiding other naturally gluten-free foods that are found in the rest of the store.
Retail dietitians are integral to the communications surrounding placement of gluten-free items in the supermarket. The way the store is organized should connect with how retail RDs position gluten-free in their consumer communications and also counsel consumers following a gluten-free diet to approach their supermarket shopping experience.
1. Gluten-free products incorporated into all sections of the store.
- RDs should teach consumers how to identify “hidden” sources of gluten, such as malt and soy sauce, on the ingredients list and the front of package
- Handouts and messaging should include information about gluten-free selections and where to find them in the supermarket
- RDs completing store tours should identify gluten-free items since they may not be intuitive to the consumer
2. Gluten-free products shelved in separate health/wellness section of store
- Messaging for consumers should convey the importance of shopping throughout the whole store to ensure they are not missing nutrient-dense, naturally gluten-free foods
- RDs should emphasize that health/wellness sections often include items containing gluten, in addition to gluten-free selections
- There should be appropriate signage and clear delineation of the specific session that is gluten-free. Regardless of placement, messaging should be clear and concise.
Regardless of how a supermarket has organized its store, it is clear the gluten-free lifestyle is not going away anytime soon. Industry experts expect annual sales to grow from $10.5 billion in 2013 to $15 billion by 2016.4 Retail dietitians have a critical role in ensuring consumers know where to find smart and healthy gluten-free choices in their supermarket.
1IFIC Foundation. 2014 IFIC Foundation Food & Health Survey. May 2014.
3QSR Magazine. Mintel Finds Gluten-Free Trend Still on the Rise. October 2013.
4New York Times. A Big Bet on Gluten-Free. February 2014.