Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Joins the Gluten-Free Brigade as FDA Drags Feet on Definition


The newest version of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies may still snap, crackle and pop – but the little guys hiding in the cereal will have to do it without benefit of gluten. In a major acknowledgement of the fast-growing demand for gluten-free foods, Kellogg has announced the introduction of Rice Krispies Gluten Free Cereal.

Because of the rising incidence and recognition of celiac disease and gluten intolerance among American consumers, both adults and kids, all manner of natural-foods and niche startups created the gluten-free ready-to-eat cereal niche. And they have commanded this growing segment in part because the cereal industry’s major players mostly have left it to them.

Kellogg’s latest move could change all of that.

Breakfast cereal largely is considered a better-for-you aisle in the supermarket anyway – except for those pesky concerns about too much sugar – and Kellogg, General Mills and others have made major strides in boosting the intrinsic healthfulness of their products over the last several years. Not only have they largely switched to whole-grain raw materials but they also have created countless low-sugar and low-sodium options and included actual fruit in more varieties.

Rice Krispies Gluten Free represents the next step.[more]

Kellogg simply is taking out the barley malt, which is the source of the gluten in regular Rice Krispies (though wheat is the most common source of these particular proteins in the American diet). And in a bid to boost the taste of this gluten-free product – because so many products lacking gluten taste like cardboard — Kellogg is making Rice Krispies Gluten Free out of brown rice instead of the white rice used in regular Rice Krispies.

“We heard the strong desire from people within the gluten-free community, especially parents, for more affordable foods that they can serve their families, and we are helping to fill that need,” said Doug VanDeVelde, senior vice president of marketing and innovation at Kellogg.

A recent medical study suggests that more people may benefit from gluten-free foods, even if they who don’t suffer from celiac disease. “We found that regardless of the clinical presence of celiac disease, most screen-detected patients benefitted from early treatment of a gluten-free diet,” commented Dr. Katri Kaukinen, from the gastroenterology department at Tampere University Hospital and School of Medicine in Finland.

As May’s Celiac Awareness Month raises the profile of gluten-free foods in the US, watch for more food brands to add gluten-free versions — and even restaurants, as Pizzeria Uno and P.F. Chang’s now offer gluten-free menus. There’s even a gluten-free beer: Red Bridge, from Anheuser-Busch, as the New York Times notes.

What there isn’t: consensus about how to define “gluten-free,” at least in America, where the FDA is “struggling” to define gluten free three years after a deadline set by Congress to do so. The UK’s Food Standards Agency, meanwhile, is implementing food safety rules that define gluten-free as foods containing less than 20 parts gluten per million on January 1st, 2012 — down from the current 200 parts per million current benchmark. (Even in advance of the new rules, Marks & Spencer withdrew a gluten-free food item that had too much wheat last fall.)

Beyond the UK, as the Washington Post reports, “Canada, Brazil, Australia and an international body — the Codex Alimentarius Commission — have all set labeling standards for gluten-free items. In most cases, that standard is 20 parts per million: A food can be labeled gluten-free if it contains less than 0.0007 of an ounce of gluten for every 2.2 pounds of food. That level was chosen largely because it’s the minimum amount of gluten that can be reliably detected.”

As “gluten-free” becomes yet another label note for food-concerned Americans to ponder, and potentially a fad diet, with Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow just two of the influential celebrities touting wheat detoxing diets, it’s the FDA’s turn to provide standards — and reassurance — to the estimated 1% of US consumers with celiac disease, who need a gluten-free diet — and others who are pondering whether they need one.

Helping spur on DC’s decision-makers, on May 4th a group of gluten-free activists descended on Washington with the world’s tallest gluten-free cake — symbolizing, as organizers 1 in 33 point out, “the big deal that clear, accurate, reliable labeling plays in the lives of people dependent on labeling for their health.”