The rising demand for safe gluten-free products.
By Chris Rich
For many years, people thought that gluten sensitivity had to be related to celiac disease. If celiac disease was ruled out, there was no reason to go gluten-free. However, over the years, that perception has changed.
There are many people today who choose to follow a gluten-free diet without a diagnosis of celiac disease – and for many reasons. They may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) with similar symptoms as celiac, but don’t test positive for celiac disease. They may have an allergic reaction to wheat or they simply have chosen to be gluten-free as a lifestyle choice. In any case, the quest for healthy, delicious gluten-free food is not going away.
The growing public interest in gluten-free is not going unnoticed by companies looking for ways to expand their customer base and enhance loyalty. That fact that companies are paying serious attention to this movement was obvious to everyone who walked the show floor this past March at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif. The presence of the large number of certified and gluten-free products being exhibited at Expo West (along with the number of companies that showed significant interest in earning the Gluten Intolerance Group’s GFCO certification logo on their product) is a good indicator that the perceived belief that gluten-free is a fad is, in fact, a myth.
Product vendors are finding that consumers are eating, and will continue to eat, gluten-free as a health necessity, for celiac disease, gluten intolerance or general well-being. While consumers living gluten-free know they need to be careful when selecting food products to ensure that the items are safe for them to eat, there can be confusion with the often contradictory information contained on those labels.
Gluten-free consumers want to be able to choose products with full confidence and they can only do that when the product package contains a certified gluten-free label or logo. Hence, a growing number of food products manufacturers see the value of employing the expertise of a third-party gluten-free certification organization. They know it is good for business to offer verified gluten-free certification on packaging because it builds goodwill and brand reputation by meeting their customers’ desires to know more about the food products they purchase and consume.
The Path to Certification
So, what is involved in getting certified? Established policies, implemented procedures and audit performances in six key areas are reviewed. A certification examination will look at the facility’s gluten program and its implementation as well as product and ingredient testing.
The components typically reviewed include:
* The management system, including procedures
* Purchasing and receipt of raw materials
* Facilities and equipment
* Production processes
* Cleaning processes and validation of cleaning
* Training and internal reviews to drive continual improvement
A third-party inspector reviews a manufacturer’s SOPs related to ingredient purchase and review production, cleaning, allergen training, recall programs, packaging and other aspects of the production. Based on a thorough review of relevant documents, the site audit and other factors, the inspection may identify departures from best practices that must be corrected before certification can be issued.
Additional consideration on the path to certification is the importance of choosing a third-party certification program that follows standards set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and, if so, the nature of the ISO standard to which it conforms. For example, ISO 17065 is an International Standard intended to ensure that the certification body certifies products, processes (management systems and production procedures) and services. By contrast, ISO 17021, is an International Standard intended to ensure that the certification body certifies management systems only.
The Return on Investment
The gluten-free product market is hot and one of the fastest growing consumer life and health choice markets. The key to being successful is ensuring consumer confidence in products and manufacturing. An indicator that product vendors see gluten-free labeling as an important benefit to their customers can be found in the fact that GIG’s Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) program certified more than 1400 products and facilities in 2017 alone.
Going back to Natural Products Expo West, GFCO distributed signs and placards to all companies exhibiting there to promote that they are gluten-free certified. The certified by GFCO signs could be found everywhere—in booth after booth, aisle after aisle—from the main floor to the hot products pavilion. There is no doubt that gluten-free products are attracting a wide audience – and will continue to do so. If a gluten-free lifestyle is a “fad” according to some, I think we can safely say it is a fad that is here to stay. And smart food manufacturers know it.
Chris Rich is vice president of development for the nonprofit Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), the industry leader in the certification of gluten-free products and food services through its programs, Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) and Gluten-Free Food Services (GFFS) Certification. Rich became a part of the gluten-free community when his son was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2013, and he is an advocate for gluten-free kids and teens. For more information, visit www.gluten.org, and contact Rich at Chris.Rich@gluten.org.