I believe that 2006 has seen several major trends:
- increasing number of small providers – both producers and retailers – of gluten free products
- labelling of gluten free products improving
- restrictions on prescription gluten free food increasing
- divergence of supermarket strategies vis a vis gluten free products:
- either increasing the range of products available (hurrah for Sainsbury’s)
- or decreasing the range and compressing the shelf space in favour of wholefoods and ethnic foods (Tesco)
There are both good and bad things about these trends – more providers is good, giving us more diversity and increasing competition. However, accessing the small providers tends to mean increased shipping costs, unless you happen to live near them.
Improving the labelling of goods as gluten free (or not) ought to be good – except if it means that manufacturers will cover themselves by saying ‘may contain gluten’ indiscriminately, which will make it more difficult to decide what is and isn’t a good risk.
Restrictions on food available on prescription is, in my view, a Bad Thing. Shipping costs and different stocking policies at supermarkets may make it difficult for some people to access a variety of gluten free foods – and if people don’t eat gluten free who should, they will get ill.
The difference in approach that the different supermarkets take to stocking purpose-made gluten free products is an interesting one. Yes, we should all be eating more whole foods and fresh foods, and cooking everything from scratch is an excellent ambition – but we don’t all have time to soak beans overnight. As more and more people are diagnosed with coeliac disease, and as the market for Free From goods increases (which it is, currently), it will be interesting to see which supermarkets increase market share, based on availability of these items. I for one am likely to change supermarkets soon …
2007 will, I think, be a bit of a shake-out year. My predictions are:
- some new, small, providers will inevitably struggle and disappear
- we will see more consolidation services – providers who can market gluten free items from a number of different sources and combine them in a single delivery to the consumer
- we will continue to see health trusts trying to reduce their costs by restricting the range of gluten free products coeliacs can have on prescription – but the voice of the consumer will get stronger, and coeliacs will band together (independently of CUK), demanding better provision and service from health trusts and from their MPs.
- CUK will decide its strategy for the future – and fine-tune the services it provides.
For more blog predictions and comment, have a look at the Problogger group writing project and browse some of the submissions.