Something new is happening to gluten-free food brands.
For years, brands that aimed to capture a piece of the gluten-free mindshare sought to replace a gluten-full product. To attract people who must eat gluten-free for a variety of health and lifestyle reasons, gluten-free food brands developed alternatives to everyday products; gluten-free bread replaced traditional wheat bread, and gluten-free pasta replaced wheat flour pasta to the delight of this emerging and growing cohort.
More recently, as carbs have become nutritional enemy number one (ok, maybe sugar is ahead on that scorecard), new gluten-free food brands entered the market: those seeking to capture the keto or paleo eater. Those adhering to a gluten-free lifestyle are an added bonus to these categories.
What is Keto?
Diets are always trendy, right? Not so fast. The ketogenic diet, designed to push the body to burn fats instead of glucose by restricting intake of carbohydrates, has been around since the 1920’s when it was used as a treatment for epilepsy. Newly in fashion as a weight-loss and health lifestyle tool, the “keto” diet – like the paleo diet – aims for low- or no-carb eating, eliminating gluten as a single element. No grains of any kinds are permitted on a strict keto eating regimen and other foods, such as most fruits and processed foods that quickly convert calories to glucose, are similarly not permitted.
Keto and paleo both encourage eaters to source low- and no-glucose foods such as whole fat milk, animal proteins, cruciferous vegetables, nuts, and berries. And today, more and more companies are building gluten-free food brands into this keto/paleo framework.
Emerging Keto and Gluten-free Food Brands
Ingredients such as coconut, eggs, cauliflower and other dark green leafy vegetables are the keto-friendly and gluten-free friendly base for many of these new products.
Founder Vincent Kitirattragarn of DANG Foods leaned into keto and gluten free packaged snacks as a natural extension of the Thai tradition of using coconut as an important food source. DANG’s first product was a line of coconut chips, featuring lightly toasted coconut meat.
“[Coconut] is in 99% of our products and everything we have is gluten-free,” says Kitirattragarn. “It comes more from my Thai background. You see soy milk but not a lot of dairy.“ Perhaps unsurprisingly, the global demand for coconut, an important source of plant-based fats for keto eaters, is soaring.
Amy Lacey, Owner, Founder, and CEO of Cali’flour Foods launched her company after realizing how hard it was to eat after a diagnosis of lupus forced an adjustment to the foods she could eat.
“I can always tell when I eat gluten because my inflammatory response kicks in right away,” says Lacey. Cali’flour Foods’ signature product is its cauliflower pizza crust. Made with minced cauliflower, mozzarella, and egg whites, the original crust is not only keto-friendly but plant-based. The company’s crackers lists almond, egg whites, and cauliflower as its first three ingredients and is part of a line of keto, paleo and gluten free packaged snacks.
Like Cauli’flour Foods’ crackers which include some lentil flour, DANG includes some legumes in its ingredient mix for its line of gluten-free packaged snack bars.
“It’s not like this ingredient is bad,” says Kitirattragarn. “It’s more that we are looking for a product with 70%-plus fats and 10% or less net carbs. We’ve found that most people doing the keto diet are doing a lazier version. They are looking for shortcuts they can take. For us, some ingredients, like pea protein and chicory root fiber [in the DANG gluten-free snack bars] are doing functional work to add texture and fiber. Otherwise, eating a keto bar is like eating a stick of butter.”
Other Brands Pivot but May Not Be Gluten-free
The Green Giant brand also introduced a line of cauliflower crusts, protein bowls, veggie spirals, and veggie tots. Though not one of the better known gluten-free food brands (some of the products contain wheat starch and/or wheat gluten), Green Giant revised its product line to access the new keto-driven customer.
Always a vegetable-forward brand under the B&G Foods, Inc. umbrella, Green Giant’s pivot speaks to the general wellness trend sweeping packaged foods. Green Giant’s cauliflower pizza crusts do not include gluten-bearing items in its ingredient list. A line of mashed cauliflower takes the place of yesteryear’s mashed potatoes and a line of riced veggies, including riced cauliflower and broccoli and cauliflower risotto medley, is 100% vegetables. All are keto, paleo, and gluten-free friendly.
Though not always marketed as such (The Green Giant cauliflower crusts are made with gluten-free ingredients but are not promoted as gluten-free), gluten-free food brands are able to naturally attract gluten-free shoppers. The gluten-free, keto and paleo diets are initially derived from different goals but the end posts are the same: nutrient-dense foods without the harm that wheat and other grain crops can inflict on your wellness. This is an emerging and notable value-add for brands seeking to reach keto and paleo-driven customers.