(NEW YORK) -- Junk food giant Frito-Lay is poised to roll out new labeling this week on a host of snacks -- including Lay's, Doritos, Ruffles, Tostitos and Cheetos -- all of which will be promoted as "gluten-free."
The company, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, said in a news release from its corporate offices in Plano, Texas, that it has developed a validation program that meets Food and Drug Administration standards of 20 parts per million of gluten.
But some think Frito-Lay's move is a "marketing ploy."
"The majority of their junk food is gluten-free except for a few strange ones like Sun Chips and Pringles," Melanie Montemurno, a 29-year-old architect's assistant who follows a gluten-free diet, said.
Last year, Americans spent $2.64 billion on foods and beverages without gluten, up from $210 million in 2001, according to Packaged Facts, a Rockville, Md.-based market research firm. The number of food and beverage packages with gluten-free package claims or tags rose from fewer than 1,000 at the end of 2006 to 2,600 by 2010.
Sixty million gluten-free products are consumed in the U.S. each day, according to Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.
He said a growing number of people have a type of gluten intolerance called nonceliac gluten sensitivity, which isn't quite as serious as celiac disease -- an autoimmune disorder that destroys the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing nutrients from food. Mounting evidence now suggests the number of people who have nonceliac gluten sensitivity may outnumber those who have full-blown celiac disease.
Frito-Lay said it is working with the Celiac Disease Foundation and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness to educate consumers and health professionals about gluten-free resources and options.
But advertising experts know who the winners will be in the gluten-free craze.
"It's just the perfect storm" for retailers, said Larry D. Woodard, president and CEO of Graham Stanley Advertising and a columnist for ABCNews.com. "You've got the retailers needing to increase sales, the marketers to sell more products and government regulation. "Any time you have all three things, it feeds off itself."
And Frito-Lay is not the only company trying to capitalize on the trend.
Makers of hummus -- a Middle Eastern dip made of chick peas and sesame paste -- are also touting snacks as "gluten-free."
"Obviously, it's never had gluten in it and never would," Woodard said. "Interesting, we are watching the whole 'no fructose corn syrup' thing. Peter Pan [peanut butter] has none and could put it in theirs. The labeling is very big. People are label shopping."
Dominoes Pizza also tried to capitalize on the trend with a gluten-free crust, but it backfired, according to the New York Daily News. The North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease charged the company's claims were misleading. The pizza company had disclaimers, warning the product itself was not recommended for the disease.
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