The UK gluten-free market is now worth over £175m and saw the highest number of new food launches of any food category last year - but that may just be the start.

There were 7,000 global new product launches in the first half of 2013 alone and the category has grown by 25% over the last two years. With so many big brands now entering the market, the rate of growth may even accelerate. Forecasts of the UK gluten-free market reaching £264m within the next five years are already looking relatively conservative.

The category is already starting to to feel more mainstream and this is starting to give supermarkets and other retailers the confidence to dedicate more space plus brand and product focus to the category. They already know that gluten-free customers tend to have a higher-than-average spend and that free-from products are particularly influential in determining a customer’s choice of where to shop. So the supermarkets should all be paying close attention to what is a rapidly developing market.

The number of people being diagnosed as coeliac or gluten-intolerant is rising quite sharply. The NHS recently quoted research by Allergy UK saying that half of all people under the age of 18 now have at least one allergy (not necessarily a food allergy), while about a third of all parents now believe their child is allergic to one or more food groups.

The number of people choosing to avoid gluten, or at least reduce their intake, for other medical or lifestyle reasons, is rising faster still. A possible link between gluten and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), for example, has only been established fairly recently and many of the people who suffer from the complaint in the UK - which the NHS says could be as many as 12 million people - are now trying to avoid gluten. More and more people with no allergies or intolerances also say they just ‘feel better’ when they avoid gluten.

“More and more people say they feel better when they avoid gluten”

Foodservice is waking up to just how important gluten-free can be. A good range of gluten-free products will often be the deciding factor on whether a family that includes a gluten-intolerant child, mother or father, choose one café or service station over another.

Food manufacturers have also begun to realise how big the market is for out-of-home gluten-free products - with the result that they have been creating new products and pack sizes. Mrs Crimble’s has doubled its foodservice offering in the last 12 months, but there is still more growth to come.

Being unable to eat gluten often impacts people at a very personal level. Research shows many people prefer to buy specialist brands that understand their needs instead of large brands that feel more detached’.

It helps that Mrs Crimble’s is seen as a particularly friendly company with strong charitable and community credentials. Currently helping to raise well over £100,000 for the Breast Cancer Campaign, sponsoring the England netball team and supporting the Back to Netball campaign have all helped to reinforce the feeling that Mrs Crimble’s is a brand that takes consumers’ interests to heart.

Cliff Carter is general manager of Mrs Crimble’s