Gluten tester Nima could be a savior for food allergy sufferers
- New technology is available to consumers to detect the presence of gluten in food to ensure it's safe prior to consuming it, according to FoodBev Media. Nima is a portable gluten sensor where consumers can insert a small piece of food, then a chemical process takes over and returns results in about three minutes. A wheat symbol is displayed if the gluten is detected in the food; otherwise a smile emoticon deems the food safe to eat.
- An associated app allows consumers to share their test results with other users. “From our early app data, we are finding that about 30% of foods labeled gluten-free are testing positive for gluten with Nima,” Nima CEO Shireen Yates told FoodBev Media. “This data highlights the struggle millions of gluten-free diners face today.”
- Nima sensors are not cheap, but the device could be invaluable for consumers on a strict gluten-free diet. A Nima starter kit is priced at $279, which includes the sensor, three one-time-use test capsules, a charging cable and carrying pouch. Once they buy the sensor, consumers can get additional test capsules by signing up for a subscription service with packs of 12 capsules retailing for $60.
A growing number of apps, tools and technologies are cropping up that cater to consumers with food allergies, and more specifically those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. These tools help consumers — particularly those with special dietary needs in their family — conduct product research, make satisfying special dietary demands easier and help ensure food is safe to eat.
In reality, only 2% of US adults and 5% of infants and young children have food allergies, according to the Food and Drug Administration. But for this set of consumers, accidentally eating products containing harmful food allergens not only can make them sick, but for some it can be life-threatening.
For the 1% or so of the population with celiac disease who must maintain a strict gluten-free diet to stay healthy, finding safe places to dine out, or quick and easy meal solutions, is anything but quick and convenient. Research indicates another 5 to 10% of all people may suffer from a gluten sensitivity and could also benefit from eating foods free of the protein.
The gluten-free packaged foods market continues to grow, and is forecast to reach $5.28 billion by 2022. In addition, there’s a huge opportunity for restaurants and other foodservice operators to fill a gaping void in the marketplace by better catering to the needs of this underserved consumer group — as well as other consumers on special diets.
The introduction of the portable gluten sensor Nima could be important for those who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. While consumers would like to trust that food companies are correctly processing, handling, labeling and otherwise selling food that is safe for the gluten-intolerant to eat, this isn't always the case as Nima found. Cross-contamination of food products is a huge issue and oftentimes hard to avoid, particularly in a foodservice setting.
Now using Nima, consumers can tell if their food meets appropriate gluten-free standards, and is safe to eat. Nima is exploring applications for other people with food allergies, such as those with peanut and nut allergies.
While great for consumers, tools like Nima can present headaches for some food manufacturers. When consumers find an item unsafe, they're not only likely to turn away from these products and quit buying them, but talk about it in the food allergy community and on social media.
Such was the case with General Mills when it changed its oat manufacturing processes in order to add a gluten-free claim to its Cheerios cereal. Within weeks of the reformulated product launch, the food maker recalled 1.8 million boxes of original and Honey Nut Cheerios labeled gluten-free because they inadvertently contained wheat. The Food and Drug Administration received many complaints of consumers getting sick after eating the cereal.
This example underscores the importance of product transparency in the food business. Consumers are overwhelmingly interested in more transparency and want to know more about how their food products are sourced, produced, processed, shipped and handled. As many in the industry have said, it is no longer an option — it's a requirement. Manufacturers getting out in front and being transparent is the best way to gain — or regain — consumer trust.
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