In recent years gluten-free diets have gained immense coverage because of their reported health benefits, such as weight loss and increased energy. In addition, it’s believed that a gluten-free diet is crucial for those needing to manage the signs and symptoms of celiac disease. 

If a person commits to a gluten-free diet, they are committing to eating food that doesn’t contain gluten. Usually, this means they stop eating rye, barley, and wheat, as gluten is a protein found in these foods. Yet, many people who have chosen to follow a gluten-free diet don’t do so for medical reasons. 

CivicScience recently conducted a survey in July-August 2022 on gluten-free diet trends. Findings indicate that out of all the survey participants, only 4% of U.S. adults are on a fully gluten-free diet for medical reasons, while 10% limit their gluten intake for the same reason. On the other hand, 6% are committed to a gluten-free diet and 7% limit their gluten intake for non-medical reasons.

In the broader context, both people who completely avoid or limit gluten for any reason make up a little over a quarter of the Gen Pop – 73% of people stated that they are not currently on a gluten-free diet (n=7,974). 

Gluten-free diet followers are largely split between medical and non-medical reasons, yet people are actually more likely to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet for non-medical reasons.

Who is today’s gluten-free consumer? What does the current market look like through their lens?

Gluten-Free Interest Largely Depends on Age

Looking into the ‘who’ behind gluten-free food interest, data reveal that younger adults are far more interested in eating gluten-free foods than older adults. 

According to survey results, 38% of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 and 30% of those between 25 and 34 are interested in trying to eat gluten-free foods. In contrast, only 13-14% of adults older than 35 want to do the same. Around two-thirds of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are uninterested and unlikely to eat gluten-free foods.

Gluten-Free Shopping Habits

Many of us will reach for our favorite goods while shopping, but how often do we reach for gluten-free items? Civic Science survey data on shopping trends show that only 12% of respondents purchase g-free items with some level of regularity – 5% purchase gluten-free foods or products every chance they get, while an additional 7% of respondents say they will purchase gluten-free products or foods if convenient.

In contrast, 68% of survey respondents say they never buy gluten-free foods or products, and 20% say they only do so occasionally but not often.

Interestingly, it could be that most survey participants don’t reach for gluten-free products or foods because they are not as readily available where they shop. According to further data, 40% of U.S. adults make grocery purchases at large regional grocery chains like Giant Eagle and Safeway, while 25% shop for groceries at a supercenter retailer like Target or Walmart, and 8% shop at a membership club retailer like Costco. Just 13% of respondents choose to do their grocery shopping at a specialty store where gluten-free items could be more readily available. 

Indeed, interest in g-free foods is highest among specialty grocery shoppers (e.g., Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s) and lowest among regional grocery chain shoppers (e.g., Kroger, Safeway). However, more than one-quarter of big-box grocery shoppers (e.g., Target, Walmart) and membership club shoppers (e.g., Costco, Sam’s Club) express interest in gluten-free foods, suggesting these kinds of stores may do well to maintain and/or increase their g-free offerings.

G-free Restaurant & Dining Trends

Another reason some might or might not be eating gluten-free meals often is because of where they choose to eat out. More restaurants and fast-food joints are choosing to include gluten-free meal options on their menus to be more inclusive. For example, In-N-Out Burger has gluten-free burger options, and numerous pizza places offer gluten-free bases. 

Fast-food and independent local restaurants are the most frequented by the American public; 29% of respondents prefer and often eat at a fast-food restaurant, while 29% often choose an independent or local restaurant.

When crossing these results with interest in gluten-free options, data show that a very high percentage (46%) of fast-casual diners (e.g., Panera Bread, Chipotle) are interested in eating gluten-free. Fast-food diners are second in line to want gluten-free food options, as more than a quarter say they are interested. Age is likely a big factor here – data indicate that young adults are more likely to eat at fast-food and fast-casual restaurants. In contrast, casual, upscale, and independent local diners are the least interested in g-free food, which tend to skew older.

Overall, although gluten-free dieting is becoming more popular and well-known, survey results show that most people are not on a gluten-free diet and about half of those eating a gluten-free diet or limiting gluten are doing so for medical reasons. That said, a small percentage are religiously choosing to purchase gluten-free products over others. 

However, gluten-free is clearly trending among the 35-and-under crowd. Those who are younger are far more likely to try gluten-free food than older adults, which may influence where they shop for groceries and where they eat out.