With New FDA Rules, Gluten-Free Actually Means No Gluten (Mostly)

The new standard offers opportunities and hurdles for brands.

New FDA rules now say that food marked “gluten-free” can’t have levels of gluten that exceed 20 parts gluten per million parts of food. In addition, these foods can’t contain rye, barley, wheat, or any crossbreeds of those items. According to Business Insider, this is the lowest level of gluten that can be detected and the new rule puts our gluten-free standard on par with those in other countries.

This is the first time we have legally binding rules about gluten-free foods in place. They come along with new high standards for foods marked “sodium free,” “sodium free,” and “sugar free.”

For people who suffer from celiac disease, it must be a relief to know that what they’re getting is actually following the most strict guidelines available. There are three million people suffering from celiac disease. About 18 million are gluten sensitive. And then there are those who are going gluten-free to lose weight through regimens like the paleo diet.

This is a $4.2 billion market.  For brands, there’s good and bad with these new rules.

Let’s start with the not-so-good. Now that there are official rules in place, there are likely to be a number of brands that will no longer be able to label their foods gluten-free without changing their recipe. And changing a recipe isn’t as simple as adding an ingredient here or taking one away there. It’s a pricey and time-consuming endeavor. The only other option is taking their now not-gluten-free product off the shelf, missing out on the opportunity to be a part of this growing multi-billion-dollar market and the chance to market a product that’s perceived as being healthy.

But the good news is if a product decides to abide by the new guideline, it can push out the message that they’re so great, they adhere to this new, narrow guideline; that this product is truly as awesome as you think it is. The FDA says so.

And for those brands, there’s the added bonus of being able to position scientists and executives who work for the company as experts on the new guidelines.

So the gluten-free (and sugar-free and sodium-free) markets are at a huge crossroads right now. Companies have a year to adhere to the new rules. At that point, supermarket shelves may undergo a big overhaul.