As of this January about a third of U.S. adults say they want to cut down or be free of gluten in their diets, the highest percentage making this claim since The NPD Group, a leading global information company, began asking the question in 2009.  NPD’s Dieting Monitor, which continually tracks on a bi-weekly basis top-of-mind dieting and nutrition-related issues facing consumers, reports that 30 percent of adults, one in every three adults, claimed to cut down on or avoid gluten completely in January 2013. 

“For as long as NPD has been tracking the eating habits of Americans, which is since 1976, they have been expressing a desire to eat healthier foods and beverages,” says Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst and author of Eating Patterns in America.  “It’s not that we want health and wellness more but that we are constantly changing how we address health and wellness.  A generation ago health was about avoiding fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium in our diet. While those desires still exist for many, they no longer are growing concerns. Today, increasingly more of us want to avoid gluten in our diet and right now it is nearly 30 percent of the adult population… and it’s growing. This is the health issue of the day.”

Balzer points out that as recently as 2011, it appeared that this “health” trend might have run its course, but then more Americans started to say they would like to cut back or avoid gluten in their diet. With the latest information collected from NPD’s Dieting Monitor, a greater portion of the adult population is interested in cutting back on or avoiding gluten in their diet than ever before reported.

Interest in gluten-free menu items at restaurants is also growing. In NPD’s CREST® foodservice market research, which tracks daily how consumers use restaurants, consumers are asked if they ordered something off the menu that was listed as high protein, whole grain, sugar-free, or described in another way.  The incidence of consumers ordering food described on the menu as gluten-free or wheat-free has grown over time and is now more than double what it was four years ago – accounting for over 200 million restaurant visits in the past year.

“The number of U.S. adults who say they are cutting down on or avoiding gluten is too large for restaurant operators to ignore,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “Restaurant operators and marketers can find opportunities to address consumer needs when it comes to their growing interest in cutting down on or avoiding gluten, like training staff to accurately answer customer questions, using symbols on menus and menu boards to highlight items that are gluten-free, as a way to extend consumer awareness and confidence in ordering.”