Angels and Genius making the dough

Angels and Genius making the dough

Rebecca McDonagh looks at the gluten-free market and how two Scottish companies are making the most of the overseas opportunities

Scotland’s food and drink sector has proven its capacity for invention – none more so than in the booming sphere of gluten-free foods. Not only are gluten-free products a godsend for coeliacs and wheat-free dieters alike, they are the foundation for growing Scottish companies with their eyes on international markets.

Kirsty Gillies, a chartered accountant and the owner of Angelic Gluten Free, based in Inverness, and shortlisted in the BQ Scottish Export Awards 2014, as best start-up exporter, has joined this market niche that offers a wonderful lease of life for those who suffer from gluten intolerance.

BQ has been following this trend since it met Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne to learn about her Genius Foods and the gluten-free bakery business. Now, four years on, the gluten-free market has exploded, with Genius leading the growth with its ‘Free From’ bakery category enjoying growth of nearly 70%, in the year to April 2014. In 2012, Lucinda won the EY Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Lucinda’s success has inspired others, such as Kirsty Gillies, herself a gluten intolerant sufferer, who began selling her cookies locally in 2012. Angelic has a range of sweet cookies and savoury biscuits, not only free from gluten, eggs and wheat, but dairy and nuts,  so they are suitable for those with lactose intolerance and nut allergies.

Kirsty told BQ that Angelic is in product development to expand the range of coeliac-friendly foods. “More people are now aware of special dietary needs and this has expanded the market for companies such as Angelic. Of course, Genius have been the pioneers with bread, pancakes and croissants, and this has helped increase the opportunities for other products,” says Kirsty.

This heightened awareness, says Kirsty, makes it easier for someone with dietary needs to enjoy their eating. “With such a good choice of products, it’s a lot easier for someone with
a dietary requirement to find something good to enjoy. The supermarkets obviously understand this too.”

Angelic Gluten Free cookies and biscuits are available in over 300 stores in the UK as well as hotels, cafes and coffee chains, while Genius has its range in Asda, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. Some supermarkets have even elected to create their own special dietary ranges – for example Morrison’s ‘Free From’ line – while the mainstream bakery groups have entered this emerging sector.

In the UK, the gluten-free market is forecast to grow by 46% to over £560 million by 2017, according to the Food and Drink Innovation Network. However, the gluten-free market is not exclusive to the UK. Health experts estimate that roughly one in 100 people are affected by gluten intolerance and so 1% of the world’s population are affected by coeliac disease or are sensitive to gluten.

Perhaps a small percentage but still around 70 million around the globe, which is enough to generate a sizeable demand for gluten-free foods. Genius has been shipping its ambient and frozen products into Australia, the Netherlands, Spain and the United States, and now into France with its ‘Sans Gluten’ range available in hypermarkets, while Angelic is also shipping to the US, plus Ireland, Portugal, Czech Republic, Malaysia and Bahrain.

 “We are exporting 50% of our products with the majority heading to the US,” explains Kirsty. “We’ve been taken on recently by the TJ Maxx chain [the equivalent to our TK Maxx stores], which has given us a strong footprint in America.”

But is the gluten-free market in danger of reaching saturation point? Food writer Nicholas Robinson with suggests that the gluten-free market could be reaching its limit. He states that the US market has already slipped and because the UK is two years behind America, gluten-free growth might only be a temporary fad. However, Angelic’s US market uptake suggests the opposite.

Then there is the western world’s battle with obesity, pointing to a growing awareness for healthier foods and ingredients, and gluten-free and gluten-light foods could become a more mainstream taste of things to come.

One thing is clear, Scotland has shown it can deliver products for a positive lifestyle.