30% of American Travelers Want Less Gluten

America’s obsession with gluten avoidance will result in $15 billion dollars in sales in 2016.

In the romantic German city of Heidelberg, my wife, Tricia, and I lived above a bakery churning out fresh delights around the clock.

The tantalizing aromas of piping-hot German dark breads, twisty pretzels, and sweet treats would swirl up through our hard-wood floorboards.

These olfactory delights would greet us and guests whenever we’d walk through the front door of our home. 


Today, Tricia is unable to eat everyday bread due to a gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

Considering how common these flours are in everyday foods, it is awe-inspiring that over 1/3 of American adults are currently trying to eliminate gluten from their diets.

Whether they are genuinely sensitive to this type of protein or they are simply trying to lose weight, America’s gluten obsession will translate into the sale of gluten-free products worth $15 billion dollars in 2016.

The implications for restaurants, hotels, and experience specialists are enormous. Diners in American restaurants ordered over 200 million gluten-free dishes last year.

With a strong US dollar encouraging a surge in outbound tourism and almost 7 million monthly searches on Google using the term “gluten,” destinations that cater to gluten-free American travelers stand to gain an edge over their competitors.

Worldwide Google Searches with The Term ‘Gluten’.
Ratio of Worldwide Google Searches for the Term ‘Gluten’ to Total Search Volume.

Despite the surge in demand for gluten-free products, awareness of gluten seems to be lacking outside of English-speaking countries.

While traveling with my wife around Europe over the past 2 years, questions regarding the presence of gluten in food products were often met with blank stares.

From being hidden in spices and chocolate, to incredible-looking pastries, awareness of gluten was lacking across Europe. 

Delicious, Fruit-Filled Pastries at the Fresh Market in Modena, Italy.
Fresh Spices in Lviv, Ukraine.

Incorporating gluten-free offerings into your marketing mix will make American customers happy and boost your bottom line.

Tourism entrepreneurs in Croatia recently recognized this marketing opportunity.

In the coastal city of Split, our friend, Jaksa Bedalov, together with The Art of Wine, developed an incredible cooking class focused on gluten-free ingredients.

Check out my video of this experience:

In the walled city of Dubrovnik, where the HBO series Game of Thrones is being filmed, a young couple of tourism entrepreneurs ignored the food critics and opened a successful niche restaurant focused on vegetarian and gluten-free options called Nishta.

They were so successful that they even opened a second restaurant in Croatia’s capital of Zagreb.

To learn more about how easy it is to incorporate gluten-free options into your recipes, visit the Celiac Disease Foundation’s website.

Also, if you have packaged foods that you would like to have certified as ‘gluten-free’, check out the  Association of European Coeliac Societies.

With luck and some good marketing, your efforts to cater to the gluten-free traveller should drive greater profits to your business this travel season.

Association of European Coeliac Societies - Gluten-free-symbol
The Association of European Coeliac Societies Gluten-Free Symbol.

For more digital marketing and entrepreneurship ideas, follow me on Twitter.

Photos Courtesy of Tricia A. Mitchell.

¹”Against The Grain: Should You Go Gluten-Free?” The New Yorker. November 3, 2014.


6 responses to “30% of American Travelers Want Less Gluten”

  1. There are for sure people with gluten-sensitivity, but its about 1% of the population. This means that for each celiac patient there are 30 people who avoid gluten because its a hype. As with any other hype, this one will pass. So while there is a genuine need to provide gluten-free alternatives, investing in catering for the gluten-hype might be time and money wasted when the (American) public will find another health-hype.

    1. Good day Michael and thank you for the comment. You’re absolutely right that American dietary habits swing like a pendulum. From Atkins to Sauna Suits, health trends in the US come and go. However, the pendulum is still swinging towards continued growth in demand for gluten-free products. If there is little to no cost for being aware of gluten restrictions and making simple substitutions (e.g. rice in lieu of wheat pasta), then tourism entrepreneurs stand to gain from product differentiation that requires little in the way of time or monetary investment.

      While I don’t think that the demand for gluten-free offerings will shrink to 1% of the population, but if they did, that is still a sizable niche market. For example, in the Netherlands, if only 1% of the annual 13 million tourists were gluten-sensitive, that is still 130,000 visitors struggling to find food that won’t ruin their day. If a business is looking to cultivate brand loyalists and advocates, popping a zinfandel risotto down on their menu and indicating that it is safe is a quick and easy win. But you’re absolutely right to be wary of American dietary fads, especially if they require a substantial deviation from your current product offerings. Thanks again for the comment! 🙂

      1. I think that the people who “ride the gluten hype” are somewhat ruining it for those who genuinely suffer. I know food entrepreneurs who are more than ready to cater for customers with special needs but who are so weary from people coming up with the weirdest demands. But you are right that there are often simple ways to provide a needed service.

  2. With my passion towards bread, every and all types, I’m lucky not to have to worry about gluten. Having a good friend of mine who cannot tolerate gluten, it has opened my eyes as to the how non-gluten foods have changed their lives. It is pretty amazing…and speaking of amazing, great photos. China is now starting to bake some authentic breads (versus the basic processed flour white bread that still dominates the scene), so I am happier out here these days. Cheers to a great weekend.

    1. Thanks for the comment Randall, and for the kind words regarding the photos – Tricia has a knack for her camera. Glad to hear that China is starting to produce some tasty baked goods! I see that China is now the largest consumer of red wine (http://buff.ly/1AxZzNl), so having some fresh bread to go with it is fantastic news. Hope your weekend is going great! 🙂

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