Gluten-Free Trend Has Significant Impact on Canadian Restaurant Industry

Gluten- and wheat-free orders increased almost 140 per cent since 2010 

TORONTO, May 13, 2013 – Canadians are becoming increasingly intolerant, or so it would appear when taking a closer look at restaurant orders, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Interest in gluten- and wheat-free menu items has been growing steadily since 2010, having increased 137 per cent in the last three years, according to NPD’s foodservice market research.  

As part of NPD’s CREST® service, which continually tracks how consumers use restaurants and other foodservice outlets,  consumers were asked if they ordered something off the menu that was listed as “high protein, whole grain, sugar free or described in another way” and the results confirmed a diet shift that is sweeping the country. The increase, which accounted for 41 million restaurant visits in the past year, begs the question: Are more people in Canada developing a gluten allergy or is this form of restrictive eating just a trend?

“We have been tracking the eating habits of Canadians for 20 years and the one consistency is that people are doing their best to make healthier choices, both at home and when dining out,” said Robert Carter, executive director of Foodservice at The NPD Group. “Whether the decision to eat gluten-free meals is the result of actual intolerances or simply interest in exploring a new diet, the fact remains that there is a very real demand for these options, particularly in the restaurant industry.”

A similar trend exists in the United States, where the percentage of Americans who are trying to cut down on or avoid gluten altogether reached new heights in the past year (one in three as of January 2013). Further, the number of consumers ordering gluten- or wheat-free food in restaurants has more than doubled what it was four years ago, accounting for over 200 million restaurant visits since 2012.

Restaurants and foodservice manufacturers are responding to this increasing demand for gluten-free menu items. According to NPD’s MenuTrack, which analyzes menu trends of the top 53 Canadian restaurants, there were 36 per cent more mentions of “gluten free” on menus in 2012 than there were in 2011. “Gluten free” is also the top menu item health claim, with 4.8 mentions per menu compared to the next distant health claim, “low calorie”, which has one mention per menu.

The NPD Group notes that these modified eating habits are due in part to the constant evolution of how people address health and wellness. In the past, eating healthily involved avoiding fat, cholesterol, sugar and sodium. While many still take this approach, new nutritional information, sudden allergy developments, modern diets and passing fads have shaped both how and what we eat.

“Dining trends change from generation to generation, but the gluten-free movement is also indicative of a larger North American craze: self-diagnosis,” continued Carter. “With endless health and medical advice a mere mouse click away, people are eagerly researching their symptoms and trying the latest quick fixes to cure ailments, and the recommended solution often involves making changes to one’s diet.”

Regardless of the reason, the number of adults who are consuming less gluten or avoiding it altogether is too large for the restaurant industry to ignore. Operators should look for opportunities to address consumer needs, such as offering advertising and clearly identifying a variety of gluten-free menu items, being flexible with ingredient substitutions and ensuring staff can answer relevant questions to attract and retain this new target market.


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Daina Astwood-George
APEX Public Relations
416-924-4442 ext. 235

The NPD Group, Inc.
900 West Shore Road
Port Washington, NY 11050

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