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- RESEARCH & AWARDS
The gluten-free segment of the Bakery/Baked Goods category has seen significant growth, with a continually wider assortment of products that fill the bill. And this segment development comes despite the limited number of individuals medically diagnosed with celiac disease. Going gluten-free today is very much a dietary lifestyle choice—and one that adherents espouse for various medical reasons potentially unrelated to celiac disease. In the wake of this groundswell of
acceptance, manufacturers have responded.
Mintel has estimated that sales of gluten-free products hit $10.5 billion last year, predicting growth to $15 billion by 2016. Private label stands to gain much by adding targeted high-use gluten-free products to its store brand Bakery/Baked Goods sets—at least over the short- to medium-term while acceptance remains strong.
The Bakery/Baked Goods category has generally performed well for private label of late, with multiple fresh and refrigerated product areas showing positive growth over the most recent IRI-reported 52-week period (see chart). And as reported in a forthcoming PLBuyer Index feature, over that 52-week period (ending May 18, 2014), Bakery hit 186.9 on the Index, and 161.4 for the comparable 4-week period, numbers that are up significantly over the April numbers of 109.2 for the 52-week rolling period and a startling 59.6 in the 4-week period (numbers 100+ indicate positive growth).
In order to dig into this phenomenon a bit further, I contacted Jimmy DeSisto, CEO of Venice Baking Company—a company that specializes in gluten-free bakery and private label, with a particular emphasis on pizza products.
Douglas J. Peckenpaugh: How did Venice Bakery decide to focus on gluten-free products?
Jimmy DeSisto: Almost 10 years ago, we were asked by Southern California holistic doctor Karima Hirani, M.D., to explore the possibilities of creating our pizza crusts with ingredients other than gluten. Dr. Karima made us aware of studies that showed that gluten-free diets helped her patients on the Autism spectrum. We were eager to help.
We then learned about celiac disease and were educated by nonprofit organizations that serve the community like the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and the Celiac Disease Foundation. We worked with combinations of ingredients until we perfected our recipes. We created a dedicated gluten-free facility and had it certified. We wanted to offer new choices for people with auto-immune disorders, autism and celiac that really tasted as good as our traditional products.
DJP: How much of your business is related to in-store retail bakery operations and private label?
JD: About 50 percent of our gluten-free business is made up of these two categories combined.
DJP: What are the biggest challenges in manufacturing gluten-free pizza crusts and flatbreads that have the same eating quality of traditional products?
JD: I would not call it a challenge, but rather an adventure. Our company is family-owned and has been around for over 50 years. This was a whole new world we were entering. But it is a world that seems to be growing every single minute! I welcome and look forward to keeping up with the demand for our products, for getting such positive feedback from our long-time and new customers and fulfilling ever-changing requests from them all.
I especially like all these trade shows we go to where we meet foodservice clients that are thinking about trying gluten-free. We also meet manufacturers that are excited about our private label capabilities because they want their customers to see how much they value their dietary restrictions.
DJP: Can you help retailers set up verifiable gluten-free standards and procedures as part of a customized in-store made-to-order/deli pizza operation?
JD: Yes, we offer all our customers assistance and information setting up the best protocols when handling and serving gluten-free products.
DJP: Can you work with retailers to develop customized private label products like packaged crusts, pizza kits, take-and-bake or frozen pizza?
JD: Yes, we have actually helped set up national retailers with private label programs, as well as take-and-bake programs.
DJP: What advice would you give to a retailer when considering adding a gluten-free store brand line of pizzas?
JD: I would tell them to spend their time doing the due diligence necessary in choosing the right partner. The right partner needs to meet all of the required levels of certification and they should feel comfortable with that supplier. This is essential in the long-term. Sensitivity and responsibility are qualities that your end users will be looking for.
DJP: What are some interesting trends in the overall pizza industry today?
JD: We have found that providing a gluten-free pizza base offers any pizzeria the opportunity to extend their product offerings to their customers. In many instances, in-store bakery operations are offering gluten-free toppings, as well. But when they find a gluten-free pizza base that so closely resembles a traditional pizza, they will offer toppings of any flavor.