Have your cake and eat it too: gluten-free industry has high hopes for growth

Photo Courtesy of Gluten Free Creations Bakery/Facebook.
Photo Courtesy of Gluten Free Creations Bakery/Facebook.

Thirteen years ago, Gluten Free Creations Bakery opened in Phoenix as the very first entirely gluten-free bakery in Arizona.

Now there are more than 10 bakeries—along with several restaurants and coffee shops—listed in the Arizona Gluten Free Registry that offer a similar environment for gluten-free consumers to eat at ease.

Research shows that the industry is expanding, despite some skepticism of whether the gluten free craze is a fad that will die out in a few years.

The gluten free food industry hit $4.2 billion in sales in 2012 and is expected to reach $6.6 billion in the next three years, according to Packaged Facts, a leading publisher of market research for food and beverage.

“The growth in the gluten-free business has really blossomed not only in Arizona, but throughout the country. More and more bakeries and restaurants are sprouting up,” said Bertina Green, a sous chef at Gluten Free Creations.

The consumer base for the industry has grown from those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance to include those who want to live a healthier lifestyle. Improving taste and the availability of gluten-free resources has boosted the awareness, quality, and appeal of these foods.

“There has been a need for gluten-free for many years, but the reason it seems people are now rushing to join is because of more awareness and people demanding a need for gluten-free items on menus,” Green said, “It is a matter of living better, and for those with diseases it can be a matter of life and death.”

Not all gluten-free items—food that does not contain the protein gluten found in grains such as wheat, barely, rye, and spelt—taste the same, Green said, but the goal is to make it difficult to tell any difference at all. The major difference is that gluten-free products are known for needing to be frozen because there are no preservatives. Some argue that this takes away from the freshness, but once defrosted, she said, they are just as fresh as out of the oven, texture and taste wise.

Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery in Tucson began three years ago when owners Susan Fulton and Mary Steiger transformed their catering business into a certified gluten-free retail store. Since then, their business has grown in sales every year.

Photo courtesy of Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery & Bistro/Facebook..
Photo courtesy of Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery & Bistro/Facebook..

This year, the pair expanded the bakery to double its size.

Fulton said baking gluten-free is a challenge because it is an entirely different chemistry when ingredients are substituted.

“Baked goods do not react the same way when they are lacking gluten, which can act as the glue that holds a baked good together.  Flour blends must be used and most of the time various gums are added to help replace the effects of the missing gluten,” Fulton said.

The industry also recently received attention when the Food and Drug Administration introduced a new rule in August that requires food manufacturers to limit gluten to 20 parts per million in order to label it gluten-free. The FDA had reported that only 5 percent of the foods labeled gluten free met that threshold.

Some see the FDA crackdown as a boost for consumer confidence, which could in turn grow the industry more.

Brenden Whittemore, co-founder of the Gluten Free Registry, is grateful for the potential to grow and add more gluten-free businesses to the state.

“We are just thankful there are so many more options available today than there were 10 years ago,” he said.

Many of Arizona’s gluten-free businesses sell their products online or distribute directly to bakeries and restaurants.

“Until there is a cure for celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and other allergens, the gluten-free trend will not die out … it’s not just a diet, it’s a lifestyle that is not so much desired but rather is required,” Green said.

Looking for gluten free sweets for the holiday season? Check out any of these gluten-free bakeries around the state:

[learn_more caption=”Gluten-free bakeries in Arizona” state=”open”]

Gluten Free Creations Bakery 10880 N. 32nd St. Suite 39; Phoenix, AZ 85028

Got2B Gluten Free 5407 E. Pima Street; Tucson, AZ 85712

Jewel’s Bakery and Café 4041 E. Thomas Rd, Suite 10; Phoenix, AZ 85018

Sedona Sweet Arts Café 2655 West State Route 89A; Sedona, AZ 86336

The Brown Bag Cookie Company online or available at select locations in Bisbee, Tucson, and Sierra Vista

Gourmet Girls Gluten Free Bakery/Bistro 5845 N Oracle Rd; Tucson, AZ 85702

Free As A Bird Bakery 500 S. Ash Ln; Flagstaff, AZ

Pure Goodies Gluten Free Foods 1323 S. Gilbert Rd, Suite 109; Gilbert, AZ 85234

Sunshine Gluten Free Bakery 1946 E. University Dr.; Tempe, AZ 85281 [/learn_more]

Sarah France writes for Arizona Sonora News, a news service produced by the University of Arizona School of Journalism. Contact her at sjfrance@email.arizona.edu

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