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Gluten-free beer: Genuine potential or another passing fad?

January traditionally marks the inflection point for short lived, hangover –induced resolutions, sobriety-led shifts to healthier eating and drinking habits and, unsurprisingly, the alcoholic drink industry’s annual low point.

21 Jan 2015
gluten-free, beer

The overindulgence gives way to regrets as over-proof spirits are temporarily banished to the back of bars and minds, providing an opportunity for lower abv and non-alcoholic alternatives to enjoy their brief month under the limelight.

This is nothing new. In fact, this cyclical pattern is implicitly acknowledged by key alcohol players and on-trade establishments themselves, forms part of their strategic planning and rarely translates into longer term abstinence. But healthier options are not based on a binary choice between alcoholic versus non-alcoholic options anymore.

And gluten-free alternatives currently taking the packaged food market by storm are finally making inroads into this most indulgence-driven of industries.

Bakery products, baby food, pasta and ready meals are leading the race in the rapidly advancing gluten free foods segment which accounts for US$ 2.6 billion and boasted an impressive 10% CAGR over 2009-2014 on a global level.

Interestingly, Western Europe accounted for almost half of the sales with North America coming second – facts underlining the decidedly western relevance of the trend.

But can this momentum be replicated within the alcoholic drinks arena? First and foremost, it already has- if not in the guise of product reformulation. Cider’s meteoric rise in the US market is largely relevant to the category’s naturally gluten-free attributes (alongside the savvy promotional campaigns underscoring the fact as a unique selling point).

Spirits are also naturally gluten free – even though some recent launches seem to have only just got the memo and wear it as a badge of honour.

That leaves beer and is largely related to the category’s tenuous relationship with the ever elusive female demographic.

Is there space for beer alternatives riding the gluten-free wave? The answer is a resounding yes but such products will never be more than a very dynamic niche. In an era where authenticity and bold craft expressions are dictating the rules of the game, indulgence rather than health and wellness will remain the main driving force for the overall category.

However, that niche can provide a solid argument for mainstream brewers trying to entice female drinkers. Peroni should take note.

-Yet to be named- gluten-free IPA from The Bellfield Brewery

A brewery which claims to be the UK's first to produce only gluten-free beers is due to open in Edinburgh next year. The Bellfield Brewery is currently testing a premium gluten-free IPA beer before its release next year. A stout, a lager and other styles of beer will follow shortly.

Having established a small-scale brewing site in Edinburgh, the company is now seeking GBP250, 000 (US$392,000) to scale up production to meet what its founders claim is a largely untapped market.

Research shows that 1 in 100 people in the UK have coeliac disease, which forces sufferers to follow a gluten-free diet.   

Read more on: beer  |  gluten-free

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