Gluten-free diets may be hurting pasta chain sales

Italian chain restaurants are suffering from falling revenues as more American choose gluten free diets.

Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) reports that sales are hurting at several pasta-centric restaurant chains. Macaroni Grill’s same-store sales are down by 8.5 percent this quarter, Bravo Cucina Italiana sales are down 6.7 percent and even with its hyped up new menu offerings, the Olive Garden is still struggling, says NRN.

When asked about how gluten diets are affecting the pasta-based menus, Card Howard, CEO of Fazoli’s, told NRN, “That’s the only thing I can think of.”

Last year, about a third of consumers reported that they were trying to cut down on gluten and this year 11 percent of consumers said they follow an entirely gluten-free diet, according to research firm NPD. Less than 25 percent of those who choose not to eat gluten live in a household affected by celiac’s or a different medical reason for gluten sensitivity. NPD reported that respondents are most likely to give up gluten for perceived health reasons including "improving digestive health" and  "eliminating unwanted toxins" from the body.

Meanwhile, sales of gluten-free products are up 63 percent from 2012, expected to take in $8.8 billion by the end of this year.

The exception to the gluten-free issue is that pizza chains are still doing well but NRN sites value and technology--such as mobile pay options --as a driving force behind pizza pie sales.