New Delhi – Despite millions of Indians suffering from Celiac Disease which is triggered by glutens in food, few gluten-free food products are available in India, a study said.

Celiac Disease is an inflammation of the small intestine, when the body reacts to the presence of glutens —a type of protein present in wheat, barley and rye—in food. It can lead to diarrhoea and anaemia. India has an estimated 6-8 million patients of Celiac Disease.

India has a potential of 2,347 kilo tonnes of gluten-free products, against 7.55 kilo tonnes produced in 2016, according to a report from the Institute of Agri-Business Management (IABM), governed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). According to experts, the estimated market share of gluten-free products in India is only 0.5-2% of the global produce.

A recent study in International Journal of Current Microbiology and Applied Sciences by Big Data Practice and Innovation Lab and Culinary Arts and Food Science, Drexel University, in USA said major reasons for this disparity were lack of awareness, and poor rate of diagnosis, lack of purchasing power.

Awareness of gluten-free products is poor in rural areas and small towns; besides, many doctors promote a few brands, shutting out other brands, especially the global ones, the study said.

In India, the rate of diagnosis of Celiac Disease is only 5-7% because 70% of Indian population lives in villages where medical facilities are not very sound, the study said.

Also, in many cases doctors confuse the disease with other allergies.

According to IABM, the market share of gluten-free products is expected to grow at 8.7% in the near future. The market share would increase in coming years due to increased rate of diagnosis of Celiac Disease and greater awareness about quality gluten-free foods.

“The absolute number of patients is increasing everyday in India. As awareness about the disease increases, there is a likelihood of an exponential increase in the number of patients with Celiac Disease and hence, the demand of a gluten-free diet is likely to increase as well,” said Govind Makharia, professor at Department of Gastroenterology and Human Nutrition at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AllMS), New Delhi.

“However, on the flip side, maintenance of a gluten-free diet is very demanding and requires considerable amount of motivation by the patient and the family. At a larger level, industries can be motivated for large-scale production of gluten-free food products,” he said.

“In big cities like Delhi, Chandigarh, Jaipur and Bangalore, people are also demanding gluten-free pizza, pasta and noodles. Few exclusive gluten-free restaurants also opened in big cities of India. Northern India is majorly wheat consuming belt, thus potential of gluten-free food is maximum here,” said Jolly Masih, a researcher from IABM.

“In India, mainly flour and mixes lead the market segment of gluten-free foods but along with increasing awareness people are getting attracted towards other food categories like snacks, pizza, pasta, fast foods and desserts. However, sections like cereals and cornflakes, energy drinks and gluten-free liquor has not picked the market yet due to lack of product demand and availability,” she said.

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