Gluten-Free Products Present Under-Tapped Market Opportunity In Asia-Pacific

Monday, December 6th, 2021

“The market for gluten-free food and beverages remains niche in Asia due to low awareness”— Parthasaradhi Reddy, Consumer Analyst at GlobalData.

Just as the Asia-Pacific region is a panorama of cultures and ethnicities, Asian cuisine is a melting pot of diverse flavours and ingredients which tend to vary drastically across different regions. For instance, China has multiple cuisines, which are similar, yet different among the various regions. India is another diverse country with food habits that vary widely across various regions of the country. Among all these diverse cultures and cuisines, a common thread is the extensive use of rice, condiments, and flavours. The dominance of rice in the region has led to a notion that Asians are relatively more tolerant to gluten than Caucasians.

However, the economic prosperity and exposure to western culture and lifestyle through overseas sojourns and media has extensively altered the food habits of Asian consumers. In addition, western food manufacturers have adapted products to local tastes, creating fusion foods with western ingredients infused with local condiments. 

One of the most prominent additions in the recent past to consumers’ tables in Asia has been bread. However, processed foods such as baked goods, bring along its own set of problems, especially for gluten-intolerant and coeliac patients.

An Underdiagnosed Condition

For many years, Asians were considered less susceptible to gluten intolerance and coeliac disease. However, recent studies from multiple global institutes have concluded that gluten intolerance is on the rise among Asians, especially among the Chinese and Indian consumers. While the incidence of gluten intolerance among Caucasians stands at one in 133 people, the commensurate figure stands at one in 236 people among Asians*

According to Parthasaradhi Reddy, Consumer Analyst at GlobalData: “As rice is the staple food among most Asians, the low gluten content in rice could mask the inherent gluten intolerance. However, the increasing incorporation of wheat into diets is unravelling the true prevalence of gluten allergies/intolerance in the region. This is partly attributed to the evolution of modern farming practices for wheat cultivation, coupled with advancements in food processing, which have resulted in higher gluten content in wheat when compared to the past. Moreover, the adoption of western foods is a major factor leading to the higher incidence of gluten intolerance.”

Take the case of India, which is estimated to have one of the highest populations of gluten-intolerant individuals. As per studies by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS), there are millions of gluten-intolerant patients in India, one of the highest in the world. The incidence is higher among the predominantly wheat-consuming northern and eastern Indian population than the rice-consuming south Indian population. 

However, the low awareness among Indians about gluten allergies and intolerance has led to the condition being underdiagnosed in India. This is especially higher among rural populations where awareness is much lower. Similarly, wheat allergy is on the rise in Japan, South Korea, and Thailand due to the use of wheat in certain local dishes.

According to a 2021 GlobalData consumer survey, only 16 percent of Asian survey respondents said they would be negatively affected by gluten*. In addition, 39 percent of consumers felt that they would not be affected by gluten, reflecting the low awareness about gluten intolerance in the region*.


Rising Awareness Critical For Driving The Market For Gluten-Free Products

The market for gluten-free food and beverages remains niche in Asia due to low awareness. In addition, large parts of the population cannot afford to pay a premium price for gluten-free products or alter their diet with low-gluten foods such as rice. The rising incidence of gluten intolerance and coeliac disease, and rising consumer awareness about these medical conditions has begun accelerating demand for gluten-free products in the Asia region. Manufacturers are capitalising on this trend and launching new products/variants with low gluten.

Mr Reddy concludes: “Manufacturers need to collaborate with health authorities and professionals to launch consumer education programs and raise public awareness about gluten intolerance in Asia. The target cohort for such products should primarily be those consumers whose diet is predominantly comprised of wheat, as consumers with rice-based diets are relatively less affected by gluten allergies. Moreover, food processors need to bring the price of gluten-free products at par with that of regular products to ensure mass-market adoption.”

*References available upon request



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