Dive Brief:

  • Oreo will make a gluten-free variety, according to a post on the cookie brand’s official Twitter account and company representatives. Mondelez-owned Oreo said it would share further details about the cookies closer to the launch date.
  • Both original Oreo cookies and Oreo Double Stuf will have gluten-free options getting to stores in January. They will become a permanent addition to the brand’s roster of flavors.
  • Gluten-free has remained a desirable buzzphrase in consumer consciousness. With these new varieties, Oreo, no stranger to releasing innovative flavors on a regular basis, will be jumping into a market Research and Markets said was worth about $2.7 billion in 2018, and may more than double by 2025. 

Dive Insight:

While consumers are willing to eat gluten-free, there is some debate as to whether they are doing so for health reasons or due to allergies. Studies have shown that the majority of consumers eating gluten-free foods are not intolerant to the protein, but products featuring this free-from claim continue to be popular. 

The number of Americans with food allergies is increasing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study showing food allergies among children increased about 50% between 1997 and 2011. Celiac disease, one of the most common medical reasons for avoiding gluten, impacts about 1% of people worldwide, including an estimated 3 million U.S. residents, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

According to a 2015 study from The Hartman Group, 35% of U.S. consumers who buy gluten-free food have no real reason to do so. Another report published in 2016 by Mayo Clinic Proceedings found the number of people without celiac disease avoiding gluten tripled between 2009 and 2014.

Baked goods are not known for being particularly good for health, but the gluten-free label carries a health halo that extends even to sweets and treats. And despite a research report from Safefood finding three-quarters of the 67 gluten-free snack foods it surveyed in 2018 were high in fat and 69% had elevated levels of sugar, it will be difficult to entirely undermine the health halo that gluten-free has earned itself.

That same report found that among the 2,000 consumers surveyed, 23% thought gluten-free products had less fat, 21% believed they had less sugar and 19% thought a gluten-free diet was a healthy way to lose weight.

Not only do consumers gravitate toward gluten-free because they view these options as better-for-you, but these shoppers are also willing to pay premium prices for these products. According to a 2019 U.S. market basket survey, gluten-free foods generally cost 83% more than non-gluten-free ones, and gluten-free foods from mass-market producers are 39% more. Pricing for the new gluten-free Oreo option was not announced.

Regardless of the reason that gluten-free remains a strong selling point, Mondelez is capitalizing on the ongoing popularity of these products with its Oreo release. While the gluten-free concept is new to Oreo, Mondelez has already found success with snacks that are free from gluten. In 2015, Mondelez purchased Enjoy Life Foods, which offers snacks without the most common eight ingredients that trigger allergies — dairy, soy, eggs, gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish — as well as many other common allergens. Its Tate’s Bake Shop cookie brand also has gluten-free options for several of its varieties.

Despite the demand for these products, developing gluten-free alternatives that retain the texture and taste of the original has not been an easy task for manufacturers. Making a gluten-free Oreo was likely not easy, but the vast knowledge of Mondelez’s Enjoy Life Foods brand, which has an extensive cookie line, could have helped develop the gluten-free Oreo option. Additionally, it is easy for Mondelez to find manufacturing facilities for the products, since so many of its brands have gluten-free options.

Other manufacturers have struggled to alter their signature products to achieve gluten-free credentials, even when they contained no wheat in the first place. General Mills spent five years building a sorting facility to ensure no gluten contaminated the 1 billion pounds of oats it uses each year to make Cheerios. In 2015 the company had to recall 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios due to contamination issues. Today, all boxes of many varieties of the General Mills cereal are gluten-free.

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