Can we say gluten-free goods are mainstream? I started thinking about this a few weeks ago when I was in Frisco, Colorado, a small town of less than 3,000 outside of Denver. We pulled over in Frisco because we saw a deli sign from the highway and we wanted to stalk up on some food for our flights back home. To my delight, the Alpine Deli was overflowing with gluten-free foods at every corner. I could get a sandwich with gluten-free bread, the soups were marked as GF, there were hundreds of gluten-free products. I was shocked! I thought to myself, “has gluten-free gone mainstream if Frisco, Colorado has so many options?”
Wikipedia defines Mainstream as: 1) somethings that is available to the general public and 2) something that has ties to the corporate or commercial entities. Gluten-free goods still have a long way to go to be available to the “general public.” While the local Frisco deli boasted a wide variety of gluten-free goods, I realized that Frisco is not a good example of catering to the “general public.” I asked the cashier why they have so many gluten-free foods and he said their offering is a reflection of the demands of the local community, which is very health conscious and also happens to have many gluten-intolerant individuals. I took note of the lady buying gluten-free pretzels in front of me as she shuffled up to the cashier in her cross-country ski boots. Okay…maybe not mainstream but still, a wonderful surprise for a gluten-free glutton.
In regards to the second part of the mainstream definition, Betty Crocker’s gluten-free line of products is a great example of how corporations are catering to the gluten-free population. For bigger corporations, like Genera Mills (owner of Betty Crocker), a product’s success is defined by its profitability. While it might be more expensive to make gluten-free foods because of the unique ingredients that are used, and the non-shared equipment that needs to be utilized, gluten-free foods are like inelastic goods that people will pay a premium for, because they don’t have a choice. Demand for these goods is certainly at an all-time high in the United States, as reflected in the doubling of searches for “gluten-free” terms in the United States over the past two years. So I suppose the price premium and a growing gluten-free population encourages corporations to pursue the gluten-free market, despite the higher cost of production.
So back to the original question…are gluten-free foods mainstream? I think we are getting there but we need to be careful. Familiarity with gluten-free foods can be dangerous. Chefs may start to understand that people can’t eat gluten so they provide gluten-free substitutes, such as gluten-free breads, but many are still toasting the gluten-free bread in the same toasters as regular bread, posing threats to the more sensitive gluten-free population.
Gluten-free foods will be mainstream when people think not only about the food itself, but also the preparation of the food.