Dunkin' Donuts jumps on gluten-free trend

Dunkin' Donuts will begin selling gluten-free doughnuts and muffins across the US this year. By selling gluten-free products, Dunkin' Donuts is joining the fast-growing gluten-free food industry, which drew in $19.7 billion in revenue in the last year, according to Nielsen.

Mark Lennihan/AP/File
A girl holds a Dunkin' Donuts sugar doughnut. Dunkin' Donuts plans to sell gluten-free doughnuts and muffins in stores nationwide.

Right on the heels of debuting its glazed donut breakfast sandwich, Dunkin’ Donuts has shaken up its menu with another new item: gluten-free pastries.

The baked goods and coffee chain announced Wednesday that it will sell gluten-free cinnamon-sugar doughnuts and blueberry muffins in stores nationwide this year, making it the first fast-food chain in the US to offer gluten-free pastries. 

“We recognize the importance of providing our guests with many options, including alternative choices for people with food and dietary restrictions,” Stan Frankenthaler, Dunkin’ Donuts’ executive chief, said to Bloomberg.

Competing chains, including Starbucks and McDonald’s, have yet to add gluten-free pastries to their menus. But Dunkin’ Donuts is hardly alone: it has jumped on a trend that has taken off in recent years, as more American consumers — both with and without gluten intolerances — pick up gluten-free products in grocery stores aisles.

In the last year, food stores racked up $19.7 billion in revenue from products with gluten-free labels, beating revenue made from cholesterol-free, multigrain, and high-fiber foods, according to Nielsen in the US.

While one in every 133 Americans has celiac disease, a condition that doctors say can make gluten consumption harmful, nearly one in three adults say they want to cut down or completely eliminate their gluten consumption, according to a survey from consumer research firm NPD.

Food companies have responded. Way Better Snacks sells gluten-free tortilla chips; Canyon Bakehouse sells gluten-free bread; and Larabar sells gluten-free snack bars.

The rising popularity of “gluten diets” may in part be fuelled by celebrities promoting gluten-free lifestyles, food industry experts say.

In 2012, tweeting to more than 12 million followers, Miley Cyrus told her fans that she lost weight because of a “gluten and lactose allergy.” She later tweeted out a picture of herself smelling — but not eating — a bag of Carl’s Jr. goods.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who also shuns gluten, published a cookbook in the spring that includes recipes for gluten-free sweet potato muffins, quinoa granola, and candy bars.

The pervasive talk about cutting gluten is a sign that the protein composite is overtaking other perceived health threats, according to NPD.

“A generation ago, health was about avoiding fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium in our diet. While those desires still exist for many, they are no longer growing concerns. Today, increasingly, more of us want to avoid gluten in our diet,” NPD said in a press release.

Whatever the reason behind it, gluten-free is likely to remain a trend in the food industry for the foreseeable future, NPD says.

Dunkin’ Donuts’ gluten-free doughnuts are slated to cost $1.89, while its gluten-free muffins will cost $2.39. The pastries are currently being sold in Dunkin’ Donuts stores in Hartford, Conn. The company didn't say when this year they would expand to menus nationwide. 

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