Good News for the Gluten Free


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
October 14, 2008

Like many consumers, I used to food shop with price and quality in mind, rarely examining the list of often-unpronounceable ingredients and the Nutrition Facts panel. But consumers with food allergies and sensitivities have no such luxury. Every morsel of food they put into their bodies is examined meticulously in order to spare themselves pain and suffering that the average consumer wouldn't even dream was possible from eating a meal.

My shopping habits totally changed when I met my wife, Meaghan, almost six years ago. After years of being sick all the time, she was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in her early 20s, which essentially means her digestive system cannot tolerate wheat or wheat gluten or the many products that use wheat-based ingredients. (Think of gluten as the glue that holds bread together and gives it that spongy feel.) Any slip from her diet resulted in severe gastrointestinal pain and illness. Simple, everyday items like soy sauce were unavailable to us if we were to eat together. If we had a pasta meal, I'd have to cook mine in a separate pot. It was frustrating - and still is in some ways.

Dining out was an eye-opening experience as well. While I could happily order breaded or battered fried clams, she would have to ask for a dressed-down fish fillet and explain to the waiter what her special dietary needs were. Our choice of restaurants was eventually based on how knowledgeable the front of the house was when it came to ensuring her safety.

So yesterday, when EcoFish, a sustainable seafood supplier based in Dover, N.H., announced the launch of two gluten-free Henry & Lisa's Natural Seafood products - Wild Alaskan Salmon Burgers and Battered Wild Alaskan Fish Nuggets - I immediately forwarded the news release to my wife. There are some gluten-free seafood items on the market already, like Pacific Seafood Group's Starfish brand. So while the early years of shopping for gluten-free products proved to be difficult and disappointing, it's getting much easier. With gluten-free options available, she says she no longer has to be the "odd one out" at gatherings with friends and family.

More than 3 million people in the United States have Celiac Disease, but there are likely many more people out there who have not yet been diagnosed and are suffering in silence nearly every time they eat. This is a growing market of extremely eager consumers crying out for the opportunity to once again eat fish sticks and other simple foods most people take for granted.

According to EcoFish, the gluten-free market in the United States is growing by more than 25 percent annually and could be a $1.7 billion market by 2010. Opportunity knocked. My wife can't wait to eat the company's fish nuggets - and since we almost always eat together, neither can I!

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