If you visit your local grocery or health-food store, chances are you'll see a section devoid of gluten products. If you don't know what I'm talking about now, you will soon. The $2.6 billion gluten-free food market in the United States is expected to nearly double by 2015. The growth is being driven by the need to better serve individuals with gluten intolerance and celiac disease, who can't properly digest gluten found in wheat, barley, and rye. While only 1% of all Americans are diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, as few as 10% of people living with the disease are formally diagnosed. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center succinctly sums it up: "The number of Americans with celiac disease would fill 936 cruise ships. Passengers on 843 of the ships won't know they have it."
That means two things. The medical community has a lot of work to do to better diagnose patients (even those with mild cases), and the gluten-free market will continue to explode. Can you capture that growth while helping individuals with celiac disease? Of course you can. Here are several investment ideas in food and pharmaceuticals that are gluten-free.
Changing the food industry You may not realize it, but wheat, barley, and rye find their way into the ingredient lists of many foods. Starches such as maltodextrin can be obtained from a number of crops, such as corn, potato, and wheat. You can see how mislabeling or failing to properly label food products makes the lives of individuals with gluten difficulties more complex.
Major food producers General Mills, Inc. (NYSE:GIS) and The Kroger Co. (NYSE:KR) are taking action. Aside from funding the University of Chicago's research, General Mills, Inc. (NYSE:GIS) offers 300 products in popular brands such as Progresso soups, Betty Crocker, and Pillsbury that have kicked wheat-sourced ingredients off their label. In fact, the company's Rice Chex was the first major cereal in the United States to go gluten-free.
And while The Kroger Co. (NYSE:KR) is only half the size of the food industry's Big G, it offers hundreds of products without gluten (link opens a PDF). The company owns stores around the country and also manufactures some of the foodstuffs on its shelves. A vast product portfolio has boosted the top and bottom lines in the past year and sent shares to an all-time high.
Health-food store Whole Foods Market, Inc. (NASDAQ:WFM) has treated shareholders and gluten-free eaters well in recent years. In 2004, the company opened the Gluten Free Bakehouse, which doesn't produce so much as one gluten-containing cookie (they do make cookies, though). That commitment has only bolstered the Whole Foods Market, Inc. (NASDAQ:WFM) faithful and should continue to capture and drive future market growth.