As January progresses so do a thousand ill-advised unsustainable diets, and no doubt among them will be those folks who think giving up gluten is the answer to that bloated feeling after the Christmas binge. Aside from my thoughts on this and how it trivialises gluten-free for those of us with coeliac disease or a diagnosed intolerance; what has been interesting to observe is those gluten-free producers who are subtly encouraging this extra attention; and no doubt enjoying a little spike in sales as a result.
For instance, I have observed some product teams tweeting articles such as 3 reasons to go gluten free which is light on medical information, and heavy on the vagueness. They aren’t outright suggesting gluten-free as an option for weight-loss, but they are subtly appealing to that market.
It seems some manufacturers are behaving somewhat irresponsibly, but should they be compelled to behave otherwise? I’m reminded a little of the current debate raging in the world of pharmaceuticals about transparency of trial data. Should pharma companies be required to publish information that might damage their profitability? Similarly with alcoholic drinks makers and fast food chains – should they be required to tell us how bad the food is for us, or are we grown ups who can make our own decisions? So should gluten free manufacturers encourage faddy eating to improve their sales?
The challenge faced by commercial manufacturers of gluten free products (as opposed to prescription ones) is that their market is not limited to the finite group of diagnosed coeliacs. If you need to grow your business and turn a profit you have a few options:
- Increase the number of coeliacs diagnosed (tricky, takes a long time and not in your control)
- Sell more to the existing diagnosed coeliacs (a market share war – relies on some pretty great marketing)
- Compete with gluten-containing products “great products that just happen to be gluten free” (requires an incredibly strong product and a good branding strategy)
- Go after the non-diagnosed market by encouraging more gluters to eat gluten-free (ethically challenging but biggest opportunity)
Which would you choose? . Gluten free products are predicted to be one of the top consumer health trends of 2013 so many manufacturers must be taking Option 4. Let’s not forget that gluten free manufacturers growing their businesses is in our interest – it brings choice and quality of life; and we are talking about commercial companies, not people required to give healthcare advice.
I would argue that ‘option 4’ is not a sustainable strategy. It might deliver a spike in sales, but these are unlikely to be your loyal customers. In the Coeliac community I observe on social media, loyalty comes from trust; and trust comes from credibility, reliability and likeability; none of which are compatible with encouraging faddy eating.
This was a little interlude before a blog next week which looks in more detail at gluten free branding. I recommend Alex’s blog ‘Dear Girl on Twitter’ if you’d like more on why you shouldn’t give up gluten (at least not without talking to a doctor).
I would be interested in your thoughts! Have you seen gluten free manufacturers behaving badly? What do you think of people who don’t need to eat gluten-free, but do?