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Big Firms Take a Slice of Gluten-Free Pie

The gluten-free trend is clearly growing, with the pace of new product development accelerating significantly. In 2006, 574 new gluten-free products were introduced across the U.S., which is up from 298 a year earlier and 69 in 2001, according to Whole Foods.

Labeling only goes so far, however, because it simply tells celiacs what they already know: Most foods are a no-go. For Quazza, for instance, that has meant no beer since 2001 when she found she had the disease. But that's about to change.

Crack One Open

Enter Anheuser-Busch, which has tackled the problem from the other end. Instead of producing the same beer and labeling it as gluten-free (something the firm has long done with Budweiser), it has formulated a new product, Redbridge , using naturally gluten-free grain sorghum.

"It takes a little longer to brew than other beers," says Florian Kuplent, brewmaster for Redbridge. The technique also produces a heartier beer with a "hoppy and fruity" flavor, he adds.

A sampling of the brew by TheStreet.com staffers confirmed this description to be true, with most people giving the thumbs up, although a few found it too sweet.

Test marketing for the new brew started in mid-2006, but Anheuser-Busch began distributing it nationally last December. Although the firm won't reveal the sales volumes, it's clearly hitting the right spot.

"We surpassed our annual volume in May," says Bruce Eames, product manager for Redbridge, but refused to quantify more specifically. "It's really played well; I get countless calls from people who say it's the first beer they had in 10 years."
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