New trade body the Gluten Free Industry Association (GFIA) has been created in response to soaring sales of gluten-free food.

Designed to support companies involved in the manufacture and trade of gluten-free products, the GFIA’s founder members include Bells of Lazonby, BFree Foods, Delicious Alchemy, Dr Schar, Genius Foods, Mrs Crimbles, Nairns Oatcakes, Northumbrian Fine Foods and Warburtons.

The GFIA is a full member association of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and the FDF will provide the secretariat for the association.

Annual free-from sales are currently worth £585.6m, a 26.7% increase on the previous year, and are projected to reach £673m by 2023 (Kantar Worldpanel).

Within the free-from market, gluten-free goods account for nearly 60% of the category and increased by 36% over 2015 (Mintel).

The GFIA said in a statement: “In this climate of growth and opportunity, leading producers of gluten-free foods have come together under the GFIA to ensure consistent high standards and to provide additional consumer confidence.” 

The group’s priorities for 2017 will include “the development of best practice guidelines on ingredient sourcing and gluten-testing methodology in order to deliver the highest quality of products to their consumers”.

There will not be any kind of regulatory element to the association, "as Coeliac UK already has a widely respected scheme and a logo that is well recognised by UK consumers", according to GFIA chairman Simon Wright.

He added: “The GFIA provides a single point of contact for this fast-changing sector while encouraging major suppliers to come together and share best practice to deliver the high quality their consumers expect.”

Wright has been working with sustainable foods since 1986 and has been a keen supporter of the free-from sector since its inception. He has run similar best-practice industry groups including The Organic Partnership, a group of key organic suppliers to Sainsbury’s. He has also been a judge on the Free From Food Awards for 10 years. 

Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK, added: “A new association devoted to gluten-free manufacturing will help the industry work together to tackle consistency and safety for the benefit of consumers and keep growing this vibrant new market.”

The GFIA has decided to be a closed group for its first year "so we can confirm our structure and direction", said Wright. "After this time we will consider admitting further members. Companies that would like to join the GFIA next year are welcome to register their interest now."

There is a fee involved in being a member of the association.