What happened to gluten free Special K?

Gluten free diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more people adopting a gluten free lifestyle for health or personal reasons. One of the challenges for those following a gluten free diet is finding suitable packaged and processed foods that are certified gluten free. For many years, Kellogg’s Special K cereal was one such gluten free friendly option that was readily available in most supermarkets. However, in recent times, the gluten free version of Special K suddenly disappeared from stores, leaving gluten free consumers perplexed and disappointed.

The Rise in Popularity of Gluten Free Diets

A gluten free diet involves excluding foods that contain gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, eating gluten triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue and even anemia. The only treatment for celiac disease is adopting a strict lifelong gluten free diet.

While the number of people with celiac disease is estimated to be around 1% of the population, a much larger portion reports gluten sensitivity or adverse reactions to gluten. Following a gluten free diet has also become a popular health and weight loss trend, even among those without an intolerance to gluten. According to one study, the prevalence of Americans avoiding gluten increased from 0.52% in 2009 to 1.69% in 2014.

This rising popularity of gluten free diets has led to increasing demand for packaged gluten free alternatives to common food products. The gluten free food industry has boomed into a multi-billion dollar market and is expected to continue growing steadily in coming years.

The Appeal of Gluten Free Special K

Within the realm of gluten free packaged foods, cold cereals have long been one of the most challenging categories. Finding a tasty, crunchy gluten free cereal with an appealing texture is difficult when you remove gluten, a protein commonly used to provide structure, bite and bind ingredients in processed cereals.

Kellogg’s Special K was one of the few mainstream cereal brands to offer a gluten free variety for many years. At a time when gluten free cereal options were limited, Special K gluten free became immensely popular among those looking for a packaged cereal alternative.

So what made Special K gluten free so appealing?

  • It had an enticing crunch and texture similar to original Special K, unlike more gritty or mushy alternatives.
  • It was made with rice and corn, rather than less common grains like quinoa or amaranth.
  • It had a pleasing taste and flavor profile, without tasting overly rice-heavy.
  • It was free from artificial colors and high fructose corn syrup.
  • It was easy to find in major grocery store chains at an affordable price point.
  • It was a familiar mainstream brand, unlike smaller or specialty gluten free cereal brands.
  • It came in a few flavor varieties like Cinnamon Pecan and Vanilla Almond, providing choices.

For all these reasons, Special K gluten free amassed a loyal following and was a cereal of choice for many gluten free consumers for breakfast or snacking.

The Disappearance of Gluten Free Special K

Then in 2018, Kellogg’s suddenly discontinued their line of Special K gluten free cereals. The cereals began disappearing from both in-store shelves and online retailers. By 2019, Special K gluten free was near impossible to find anywhere.

This development took gluten free consumers by surprise, who had come to rely on Special K gluten free as a delicious and readily accessible option. Kellogg’s provided no explanation for the discontinuation, leaving customers confused and disappointed.

Many gluten free advocates speculated on what prompted Kellogg’s decision. Here are some leading theories on what happened to Special K gluten free cereal:

Theory #1: Declining Sales

One possibility is that Special K gluten free simply did not have high enough sales volume to remain economically viable. As the overall cereal market has weakened over the years, cereals that don’t meet sales thresholds are often discontinued. Even a once popular variety can land on the chopping block when demand drops. With abundant gluten free competition entering the market, its possible Special K gluten free became less unique and saw declining market share.

Theory #2: Manufacturing Issues

Producing gluten free cereal requires strict protocols to avoid cross-contamination with gluten. This likely makes manufacturing more complex. Perhaps Kellogg’s faced challenges producing and distributing Special K gluten free profitably while adhering to strict gluten free purity standards.

Theory #3: Focus Shifted to Other Varieties

Kellogg’s may have made a strategic decision to funnel resources into other varieties of Special K cereal instead, giving them more focus and priority over gluten free. For example, around the same time, Kellogg’s introduced new Special K flavors like chocolatey delight and brown sugar cinnamon. So potentially the company allocated marketing and operations bandwidth to these new products instead.

Theory #4: Formula Change

Food companies frequently update product formulas. Kellogg’s may have altered the recipe for regular Special K cereal in a way that incidentally made it no longer gluten free. Rather than keeping and producing two different formulas, it could have been more cost effective to drop the gluten free line altogether under the new formula.

The Response from Gluten Free Consumers

Regardless of the reasons behind it, Kellogg’s provided no explanation for ceasing production of Special K gluten free cereal. This left many loyal customers confounded and irritated by the abrupt loss of a beloved staple cereal.

Across social media and forums, scores of disappointed consumers voiced their grievances over the disappearance of the cereal. Some common themes included:

  • Annoyance at the unannounced discontinuation, with no transparency or rationale given
  • Frustration that Kellogg’s was appearing to ignore consumer needs and input
  • Confession that Special K gluten free was their favorite cereal, and they were upset it was so suddenly taken away from them
  • Concerns that supply was being disrupted right when gluten free diets were gaining popularity
  • Disappointment that Kellogg’s was not supporting the gluten free community
  • Confusion over why the cereal was pulled when it still seemed to have strong consumer demand

Many called for Kellogg’s to bring back the cereal or at least provide an explanation. A petition urging Kellogg’s to revive Special K gluten free collected over 3,000 signatures but to no avail. Kellogg’s remained silent about the matter.

The Hunt for a Replacement Gluten Free Cereal

For those who relied on Special K gluten free cereal, its disappearance left a noticeable gap in the grocery aisle. Consumers accustomed to the taste and texture found many alternate gluten free cereals disappointing in comparison.

Here are some of the replacement gluten free cereals that Special K fans flocked to in their quest to find an acceptable substitute:

Gluten Free Cereal Key Features
Cascadian Farm Organic Purely O’s Made from brown rice and corn; crispy Os shape; contains protein
Barbara’s Puffins Original Made from corn; rice-shaped cereal; crunchy texture
Glutino Gluten Free Chocolate Cereal Corn-based pops with cocoa; contains vitamins and iron
Nature’s Path Mesa Sunrise Made from corn, rice and quinoa; hearty, crunchy texture
EnviroKidz Gorilla Munch Made from rice; chocolatey rice puffs with banana flavor

While some found new favorites, most agreed these alternatives still fell short of the original Special K gluten free cereal. Many consumers continued to express hopes that Kellogg’s would revive the product or a very similar formula under a new name.

Trying to Recreate the Special K Gluten Free Recipe

Dismayed by the lack of adequate gluten free cereal options, some Special K fans attempted to recreate or remix recipes to match the taste and texture of the discontinued cereal. But gluten free baking and cereal-making is notoriously tricky.

Here are some example recipes and experiments people tried in hopes of mimicking Special K gluten free cereal:

Copycat Special K Gluten Free Cereal

Mixes rice cereal with corn/rice blends, sweetens with sugar and honey, and bakes into cereal clusters

Homemade Special K Gluten Free Bars

Combines rice and tapioca flours, oats, seeds, dried fruit and nuts into chewy breakfast bars

DIY Rice & Corn Flakes Cereal

Uses popped corn and puffed rice as base ingredients before adding seasonings and sugar

Secret “Restaurant-Style” Gluten Free Cereal

Starts with gluten free oat flour and incorporates potato starch, oils, milks and flavors

Some amateur chefs got closer than others to mimicking beloved Special K gluten free. But most agreed that recreating the exact same combination of crispy texture and balanced flavor was nearly impossible at home. Nonetheless, these special recipes remained popular with diehard Special K fans committed to finding a home baked solution.

The Continued Demand for Quality Gluten Free Cereal

Years later, the outcry over discontinued Special K gluten free cereal has finally begun to fade. Yet many who adored that cereal still mourn its loss. This displays the continued demand for tasty, mainstream gluten free cereal options.

Indeed, quality gluten free cereals remain one of the most sought after categories in the exploding gluten free food market. Gluten free cereal sales are projected to reach USD $709 million globally by 2026, driven by rising rates of gluten intolerance and demand for convenience.

As large food manufacturers continue expanding their gluten free offerings, the biggest opportunities lie in mimicking the texture and taste of traditional favorites. While alternatives exist, most gluten free consumers agree the market has not yet produced a true replacement that captures the crunchy, crispy magic of original Special K gluten free cereal.

Perhaps someday Kellogg’s or another major brand will crack the code and deliver a new gluten free cereal option that finally satisfies the cravings and picky preferences of former Special K devotees. Until then, the hunt continues for that perfect gluten free cereal recipe that can fill the void left behind.


In summary, the disappearance of Special K gluten free cereal left a noticeable gap in the market and a passionate community of consumers wanting answers. Kellogg’s has yet to provide any explanation for ceasing production of this once popular item. While alternative gluten free cereals exist, most fans agree nothing has quite managed to replace the unique appeal of original Special K gluten free.

Years later, demand remains high for a quality gluten free cereal that captures that same crunchy texture and flavor. Food companies continue working to perfect the gluten free cereal formula and meet this consumer need. But for now, the mystery remains around what exactly happened to readily available and beloved Special K gluten free cereal.

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