Under the new European Commission regulation (EC) No 41/2009 ushered in through the official journal last week, only foods that contain less than 20 parts of gluten in a million will be allowed to use the term 'gluten-free' on their packaging.
Further, if a product contains a gluten level of 21-100ppm, it will have to be labelled as 'very low gluten' by 2012.
Food manufacturers have previously turned to Codex Alimentarius' standard for gluten-free labelling. In 1981 Codex established the level of gluten permitted in gluten-free products at 200mg gluten/kg or 200 parts per million (ppm): this standard was amended to only 20ppm in July last year.
The passage to full compliance for the new rules from Europe, necessary by 1 January 2012, could necessitate extra costs for manufacturers in particular in terms of re-labelling, that could reach £1000 per affected product, estimates the UK's Food Standards Agency.
But with one per cent of the UK's population potentially suffering from coeliac disease, an intolerance to gluten, the market for foods with the gluten sliced out holds considerable potential.
Coeliac disease is caused by intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye: some coeliacs also react to oats. Gluten damages the gut, which prevents normal digestion and absorption of food. If undetected in the long term it can lead to, among other things, anaemia, poor bone health and weight loss because the body is not absorbing food properly.
And the recent amendment to Codex recommendations reflects evidence that while people with coeliac disease can tolerate a low level of gluten without ill effects, some people are more sensitive and can only safely eat foods with less than 20ppm of gluten.
Stakeholders such as Coeliac UK - a charity that works for people with coeliac disease, the Food and Drink Federation, the Food Standards Agency and manufacturers themselves are currently working together to tackle the new European legislation.
"We are pleased that there will be clearer labels," a spokesperson for Coeliac UK said to BakeryandSnacks.com, adding that the charity is working with the industry, along with all other stakeholders, to move forward and to get a clearer picture and understanding about the total impact of the legislation.
New product design
Gluten-free products on the shelves today are supplied by both specialist and mainstream manufacturers.
And while market trackers Mintel report the launch of 145 'gluten-free' new products onto the European market in the past six months, this figure actually marks a considerable dive from the period between January to June 2008 that witnessed some 231 new product launches.
In terms of new launches, Garbo Food recently rolled out gluten-free cinnamon rolls with 'gluten-free' and 'Low/No/Reduced allergen' claims onto the dutch market. Retailing at €2.89, ingredients listed for the rolls include vegetable margarine, teff flour, yeast, rapeseed oil, and tapioca starch.
And this month Malgara Chiari & Forti launched gluten-free crackers under its Pandea Free to Eat brand onto the German market. The savoury crackers, that retail at €2.29, also bear the 'gluten-free' and 'Low/No/Reduced Allergen' claims.
Elsewhere Dr. Schar rolled out its gluten-free crisp rolls in Spain this month. Priced at €3.19, this new product launched as Crostini, spears the Low/No/Reduced Allergen claim as well as gluten-free.