As sales of ‘free-from’ goods rocket, the UK’s leading coeliac body has sealed a Europe-wide agreement to promote one universal front-of-pack symbol for gluten-free products.

Currently, a confusing mish-mash of logos dominate branded and own-label bakery food packs, but the Association of European Coeliac Societies has agreed to adopt Coeliac UK’s ‘cross-grain’ symbol to standardise gluten-free labelling across Europe.  

The aim is to promote the logo as the universal quality standard for gluten-free products.

 Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK told British Baker, “We have just concluded a European-wide agreement to share the symbol and its quality assurance measures.

“It has huge potential as the commonly-used symbol on packs, because all coeliac consumers recognise it. In the UK, while we have licensed that symbol to the likes of Warburtons, the supermarkets have gone their own way and produced their own symbols.

“My colleagues in Europe are getting a lot of interest from big players like Carrefour and the German discounters, who are looking to take up that symbol licence. That may put pressure on supermarkets in the UK to adopt it too.”

Within Europe, the UK has the largest percentage of consumers who avoid gluten as part of a health-focused diet and lifestyle. The total UK gluten and wheat-free market is now worth £135.9m, with sales soaring 15.5% year on year (Kantar Worldpanel data, 52 w/e 4 September, 2011).

Qualitative research on gluten-free consumers conducted by McCallum Layton (Sep 2011) supported calls for a clear, industry-wide symbol, with interviewees complaining of ambiguous pack symbols and product labels that require careful study.

Similarly, a survey conducted at The Allergy & Gluten-Free Show 2011 found that 80% of people thought ‘free-from’ symbols were helpful, with 85% wanting to see specific logos such as ‘wheat-free’ flashed on the front of products.

“I think it would be hugely beneficial for consumers if there could be some agreement about logos,” said Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, editor of gluten-free information website Foodmatters. “The current situation is both confusing and potentially dangerous for those with health issues; it’s just confusing for everyone else.”