US natural and organic foods retailer Whole Foods Market has announced the opening of the Whole Foods Market Gluten-Free Bakehouse, the company's first dedicated gluten-free baking facility.

Located in the Raleigh suburb of Morrisville, the new 8,000-square-foot facility will produce 27 products, including breads, cookies, scones, biscuits, pizza crusts, whole pies and brownies, to meet the needs of customers whose diets require gluten-free foods.

A gluten-free diet is medically necessary for individuals diagnosed with celiac disease, also known as celiac, nontropical sprue, celiac sprue, gluten intolerant enteropathy or gluten sensitive enteropathy.  The disease causes a physical reaction to certain protein chains - or glutens - which are found in some common grains such as wheat, rye and barley.  The reaction leads to changes in the small intestine which prevent absorption of nutrients from food.

The gluten-free baked goods are now available at the five North Carolina Whole Foods Market stores in Cary, Raleigh, Durham, Winston-Salem and Chapel Hill.  Distribution also includes Atlanta's three Whole Foods Market and three Harry's Farmers Market stores, and the South Carolina store in the Charleston suburb Mt. Pleasant. Expanded availability for stores in Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, south and west New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., is expected by November.