By Mike Pomranz
Updated November 21, 2014
Credit: © The Picture Pantry / Alamy

Since 2012, the sale of gluten-free foods is up 63 percent, a market that could reach close to $9 billion this year. All of those gluten-free products have to be cutting into sales of something else, and some are speculating that the loser is pasta and the restaurants that sell it.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, sales at pasta-slinging chains are down almost across the board. Macaroni Grill, Bravo Cucina Italiana, Brio Tuscan Grille and Olive Garden are all cited as examples of restaurants that have seen same-store sales fall recently.

One chain that is continuing to grow is Fazoli’s, but even its CEO, Carl Howard, believes Americans’ desire to cut gluten out of their diets is affecting bottom lines. “That’s the only thing that I can think of,” he was quoted as saying, referring to anti-gluten sentiment.

Just how big has the gluten-free fad gotten? According to the NPD Group, a third of consumers are trying to cut down on gluten, and an amazing 11 percent are on diets that are entirely gluten-free. By comparison, only about 1 percent of Americans suffer from celiac disease, the only scientifically proven illness that prevents sufferers from properly processing gluten, meaning that more and more people are voluntarily cutting the wheat protein out of their diets.

Though no hard evidence exists that gluten is the sole reason for Italian restaurant chains’ recent struggles, with so many people jumping on the bandwagon, acquiescing to the anti-gluten crowd might make financial sense regardless.