Gluten Free in France use to be a real struggle, when we arrived in 1999 finding clearly marked food labeling, let alone gluten free products was difficult. Most largish towns had an organic shop hidden away somewhere that stocked a limited number of Gluten free Dr Schär products at eye watering prices and dodgy sell by dates. Nowadays you can find an acceptable range of clearly labelled gluten free products in most supermarkets. The prices still make your eyes water, and most are highly processed products rather than the raw materials, such as gluten free flour and xantham gum, that enable you to bake and prepare food yourself.
Ceoliacs, like myself, are estimated to make up about 1% of the French population, density varies with a higher decree of occurrence in more sedentary, shall we say closer communities, than more mobile ones. That means there are roughly 600,000 ceoliacs in France, only 20% of that number have actually been medically diagnosed.
The Gluten Free market in France
In 2014 the French gluten free market was estimated at 93 million euros, with an annual growth rate of 11% it is expected to grow to just over 200 million euros by 2018. In Europe that places France as the third largest gluten free market behind Germany, 427 million in 2014, and the UK 155 million in 2014.
This growth is no just coming from ceoliacs, gluten free diets are increasingly being advised by doctors for people who suffer from other auto-immune illnesses, the largest growth is coming from people auto diagnosing themselves as gluten intolerant, whether for health reasons or the usual French neurotic obsession about all things health related.
What ever the motivation of the individuals, the total impact is slowly transforming the food on the shelves. Food processing and transforming companies are increasingly looking to find non gluten alternatives for their everyday products. Fleury Michon ham for example now has a range of discretely labelled San Gluten ham. Findus does a fish finger with an gluten free batter. The increasingly innovative gluten free niche players, the big players in France Dr Shär, , Allergo and Gerble; who bought the gluten free range Valpiform in 2013, are coming up with new products that are being rapidly distributed by the big supermarkets, as they try and cash in on this premium niche market. Indeed the big supermarkets have now started launching their own, Auchan launched Mieux Vivre in 2009, Casino and Carrefour own labels gluten free appeared in 2010, and the slow coaches at Leclerc in 2013.
That is not however to say that there are not a few problems living gluten free in France. Restaurant chefs that really understand a gluten free diet are rare, through the number is increasing. I have eaten more steak frites in France than I care to remember, and even then you have to check the chips. Sites like Sortir Sans Gluten do provide a list of gluten free restos, though as usual they are concentrated in the larger cities and towns. The Petit Futé have also started a gluten free eating guide which can be bought from Amazon.
I still have to explain to my baker colleagues in the markets that while they can make bread who’s ingredients are gluten free the fact tat they do so in their usual ovens means that it is not gluten free bread, and equally shoving it the same boxes as flour sprinkled gluten bread to transport it to market is not a brilliant idea. But then Caroline had to explain to a bemused nutritionist what gluten free was when I was hospitalised for my heart operation.
C-sansgluten provide regular gluten free news and articles.The zapidly named AFCIAG, l’Association Française Des Intolérants Au Gluten, have the usual useful information listings, as well as a guide to getting reimbursements on gluten free products is you are a diagnosed ceoliac.
There is even a dating website now for people who live gluten free, Glut’aime. So even if the cafes may still poison you at least you can find true love..