A Cautionary Tale of Purity, Labeling and Product Literacy in the Gluten-Free Market

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Abstract

Like the market for organics, the gluten-free products market is expanding rapidly. Rapid expansion in the organic foods market led to changes in the regulatory structure, which in turn, made possible the transition of organics from something considered exclusive and value-laden, to something that is conventional and void of many of the original substantive characteristics. Moreover, this process of conventionalization has contributed to a decline in product literacy. Despite a standardized label, consumers generally know less about the products' attributes once conventionalization has occurred. Using the case of organics, we show how the current governance structure for gluten might also be in the process of conventionalization. Yet, this trajectory is not inevitable. Transmutation of the market, which is accomplished via critical analysis and consumers' active engagement in defining “gluten-free,” may provide an antidote to product dilution and may improve product literacy for those who need or desire gluten-free products most.

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