Bashas' may be putting the freeze on gluten-free foods early next year. The Chandler, Ariz.-based chain has confirmed that it may soon offer customers a set of gluten-free frozen foods.
For a segment that caters to a very specific dietary condition, gluten-free products have been enjoying unusually strong growth lately, albeit off of a small base. The category has grown beyond wheat-free flours and baked goods to include products like breakfast bars, snacks, soups, baking mixes and skillet meals. For example, frozen entree sales rose 172% between 2004 and 2005 to reach almost $3 million in sales, according to ACNielsen LabelTrends.
“Most of our Natural Choice sections have a small, 20-linear-foot [gluten-free set],” said Paul Howland, Natural Choice buyer for Bashas', noting that while sales in the category weren't overwhelming, the products did help bring in some very loyal customers.
“We are looking at adding a Gluten Free [freezer] door,” he added. “It should happen sometime in the first quarter of 2007.”
Less than a decade ago, gluten intolerance, or celiac disease, was thought to affect about one in every 10,000 people, said Steven Singer, president of Glutino Foods, a specialty manufacturer. The autoimmune disorder, which is triggered by the protein found in wheat, barley and rye, has since become easier to diagnose with simple blood tests, rather than biopsies, and is now thought to affect as many as one in every 133 people.