Background and challenge

A gluten-free food manufacturer that was an early entrant into the category wanted to understand its best path for growth and value creation. As the category was still in its infancy, the magnitude of the opportunity and how the market might evolve made strategic decision-making complex. The company turned to L.E.K. Consulting to help define the market opportunity, frame the strategic options and determine the optimal growth path to maximize value.

Approach and recommendations

A core component of our work was conducting extensive consumer research to strategically segment potential addressable groups and understand their perceptions of the category and the value proposition it posed to them, as well as demand drivers and purchase behaviors. We analyzed the development paths of analog market segments and mapped their relevance to the gluten-free category. We modeled the market growth dynamics, which revealed a potential market opportunity that was much larger than the client had believed — driven by prevailing health trends and the acceptance of gluten-free benefits beyond the Celiac population into mainstream consumers.

Our brand assessment work found that although the client had low brand awareness, loyalty was extremely high and core differentiation existed in several dimensions, most notably the brand’s superior taste profile. Competitive and channel analyses also revealed that while the gluten-free market was becoming increasingly competitive, it lacked clear leaders and many brands had not penetrated large conventional channels. Our findings established a number of key pillars around which to anchor the brand position and drive consideration and purchase conversion. We devised strategies for maximizing the brand’s potential in specialty grocery, while also driving material growth in conventional grocery channels.

Finally, we conducted a rigorous category expansion assessment, leading to tiered priority areas to pursue. This laid the groundwork for future product development and growth over the mid and long terms.

Results

Since implementation, the client has enjoyed great success, with the company’s valuation increasing 500%. Nielsen identified the brand as the fastest-growing packaged food company in the U.S., with sales greater than $2 million. It continues to be a leader in the gluten-free category.