January 2, 2011

 

The High Cost of Gluten-Free Products

imageOne topic that was brought up several times at the General Mills Gluten-Free Summit was the high cost of gluten-free products.  Why should a gluten-free cake mix cost twice as much as a gluten cake mix and only make half as much cake?  I’m not trying to pick on General Mills here.  This is a problem with all packaged gluten-free foods. 

Ingredients
Potato Starch I understand that gluten-free products use ingredients that differ from their gluten containing counterparts.  Since I mostly bake from scratch, I know that purchasing gluten-free flours and starches is more expensive than buying wheat flour.  For that reason, I would expect to pay a little more for gluten-free products.  A little more.  Not a whole lot more.   Having said that, though, it seems that the prices I pay for those baking ingredients are higher than they need to be.  Why is potato starch so much more expensive than corn starch?

Demand
More and more people are embarking on a gluten-free diet every day, and the gluten-free market is booming.  Demand for gluten-free products is up, but it is still only a fraction of the demand for gluten filled products.  For that reason I would also expect gluten-free products to cost a little more.  A little more.  Not a whole lot more.  While we’re on the subject, since demand for gluten-free products has gone up in recent years, shouldn’t prices come down a little?

Discounts
Another issue raised at the summit is that many gluten-free products do not go on sale.  A few companies offer coupons for their products, but very few. 

Where That Leaves Us
imageI think a lot of us end up feeling that we are being taken advantage of.  We have to eat gluten-free, and if we want packaged food (including single ingredients such as flour) we are limited in our choices, all of which are overpriced.  We pay $5 - $7 for a very small loaf of bread because it’s good, and it’s better than the other very small loaves of gluten-free bread that sell for the same price.  We either pay the high prices or go without.

My Opinion
I would personally love to see a company provide safe, certified gluten-free products and ingredients at prices that are competitive with regular prices.  If the products are good, I believe the gluten-free community would flock to that company and show their support by buying their products.  What they would lose in profit on each product would more than be made up for in the volume they would sell.

What are your thoughts on the the high cost of gluten-free products?

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Comments:
I completely agree! I am gluten free because it is what is best for my health given that I have both Hashimoto's and Fibromyalgia. Sure I cna choose to continue to destroy my health or I can do what I can to live a better life by going gluten free. I don't understand why the products have to be so much more expensive than gluten filled products. Frankly it is breaking the bank to be gluten free. So I pose this question to you all. Do you pay for the medications that really do nothing in the long run for said conditions or do you pay the price to be gluten free? It would really be nice if America would do as some countries in Europe have and make gluten free products available by prescription. I mean really this is needed. Okay I will get off of my soap box now. Next.
 
Linda,

Gluten free products are too expensive. With demand increasing, I hope that food ingredient suppliers and processors will be able to increase production and efficiency and, as you said, make a little less profit per item because they are selling greater quanitites.

I will say, though, that I appreciate the wide variety of gluten free products that are available now.

One of the ways that I save money on gluten free foods, besides cooking from scratch as much as possible, is to make occasional trips to a grocery outlet store. I don't always find gluten free foods there, but when I do, I stock up. Last year, I bought several months worth of gluten free pasta for half what usually pay!

Thanks for your great blog, and have a wonderful 2011!
Cindy
 
I couldn't agree more! It is the most aggravating part of being on a special diet of any kind. So many things are more expensive to begin with, and in time, the price continues to go up. I am grateful to you and all the other bloggers that post recipes. It is really expensive to buy the individual flours, but I am starting to bake again. Another gripe I have is that most gluten free cookbooks just don't have the same kind of food that we eat, or they make things way too complicated, with too many ingredients. Recently I started printing off recipes that I like and storing them in a binder. It is full of things that I like, and it is food that we all eat. Thanks for giving us all a chance to vent about this. I was happy when I found out that General Mills was making gluten free products, and at my store they are usually under four dollars a box, but never on sale. I would never buy the GF Bisquick because of the price you pay for that tiny box. It's crazy. I don't mind paying extra, but I really do mind being taken advantage of. It's bad enough to have to deal with a special needs diet without feeling like a lot of things are priced entirely too high. When I find a product I do like, I write to the manufacturer, or call them. They like the feedback, and sometimes they do send coupons in appreciation. Udi's occasionally has a coupon to print at their site, but even so, it's hard to justify a loaf of bread at nearly five dollars a loaf. Without the coupons it's closer to six. A lot of stores tend to price the products above the SRP, which adds to the cost as well. Surprisingly, or maybe not, the best places for bargains are my local co-ops and health food stores.
 
I try and not to eat gluten-free convenience foods simply because they are so expensive!

However, I unfortunately fell in LOVE with Zing bars. They are so delicious and filling and I tend to eat them at least 5 times a week. Problem? They are $2.69 PER BAR. Yeah....my Zing bar addiction is going to have to end. ;)
 
Rock on Linda! :) We need to bring this up every time we visit General Mills!
 
What a great article! I wish all of the food manufacturers would read this and realize that they would make a fortune if they could drop their pricing--we would all buy from them! It's really hard to buy the convenience foods that are GF in today's economy. I find that I'm resorting to a lot of "naturally gluten free" items, but it's hard sometimes. Thanks for the great post!
 
I do agree with you and thing/hope that this will change as demand goes up and more and more people make gf products. I mostly eat naturally gf foods, and grind my own flour, but it's just more than most people want to do, and I can't blame them in the least.
 
agree as well. the cost of being gf is putting quite a strain on people who are already experiencing economic hardship due to the economy in general. and we certainly cant afford the high cost of health care associated with NOT being gf. it's a bit of a catch-22. but i am also finding that when it comes to what i call "non special" gf itmes (i.e., things that just happen to already be gf like classico pasta sauces, progresso cream of mushroom soup, wolf brand canned chili). there can be a huge difference in cost from store to store. it does pay to shop around. for example, i was buying wolf brand canned chili at Meijer and it was over $2 a can. Kroger now carries it and often put it on sale for $1 per can. I buy Pacific brand cream of chicken and cream of celery soup at the local health food store bc that's where i can find it and i often pay $2.99 for a small container (equivalent to a campbell's soup can) but i can buy Progresso cream of mushroom soup in a larger can at Kroger for $1.59. I keep hoping that as more people turn to gf diets for health reasons that companies will respond with lower costs. it doesn't seem right to over charge people just because you CAN - because you know we will pay it.
 
As far as I can make out, there is only one (currently) justifiable reason for the excessive difference in price (allowing that, as you say, a slight difference is quite reasonable and expected): manufacturing.

For a product to meet the labelling requirements to be "gluten free" they are almost certainly going to have to be using a manufacturing plant dedicated to non-gluten products. The dangers of cross contamination make it financially (and legally) impractical.

This is all conjecture of course but it seems a practical answer for the difference - certainly for those of us in the UK anyway!
 
Totally agree! It's like we've been dealt a double whammy with having to be gluten free and then the price of GF items. We don't hardly eat any prepackaged GF foods because of the cost! I have 3 boys who at the ages of 6 and under are already eating me out of house and home! I am literally going to have to go back to work in a few years just to pay the grocery bill! That is ridiculous!
 
Annie has hit the nail on the head. To manufacture a guaranteed safe gluten free product, each ingredient must be certified and lab-tested to prove its gluten free status and the end product should also be tested to confirm this.

Obviously gluten free consumers want safe products made in an exclusively gf environment but the gf marketplace is very small compared to 'normal' consumers so it is harder to establish a big enough market-share to make production viable.
On top of that, consider that most ingredients are produced in factories that also handle wheat or gluten containing lines, so they cannot be sold as gluten free. So a gf producer has to source all their ingredients from other producers catering to this small gluten free market who are also producing their ingredients in safe, gluten free environments.

There is no way round the fact that if you want genuinely safe gluten free foods then they are going to be more expensive.
As a gluten free food producer, I know it is very, very hard to manufacture good quality foods and maintain reasonable prices, and I would love to see cheaper prices.
On the other hand, as a consumer, I question cheap gluten free food and wonder just how safe the sourcing and manufacturing policies are. Personally, I would always prefer to pay more and know that I am safe, even if that means that most manufactured gluten free foods are occassional treats rather than regular foods in my diet.
 
I agree somewhat, I think as a nation we should not be eating so many packaged food in the first place, its not healthy.The only packaged gf food I buy is pasta and gf flour,I save up a e few dollars and buy the flours I need once a month and make one big batch of gf alpurpose flour and that last me a month or two and I make sandwhich bread,muffins,cookies(occasionally),and granola bars and all those things are made occasionally.The meals in our house pretty much consist of naturally gf foods and thats how we should eat anyway,for istance tonight we had baked skinless chicken sauteed collard,turnip and mustard greens with onions peppers and garlic and sweet potatoes and for dessert fresh pineapple and grapes.On the other hand trying to buy healthy gf grains is very expensive like quinoa,oatmeal,brown rice cereal.My family eats alot of oarmeal and I paid 11 dollars for two bags of gf oatmeal that is ridiculous,so I do agree the gf products should be a little cheaper but I also think they're getting carried away with some the unhealthy gf products they make, whats next gf twinkies lol.
 
I run a gluten/allergen free bakery in Georgia, and I will tell you, I sometimes ask myself why I bake this way. I know why. Because people like myself need it. But the cost of the ingredients, the shipping especially because I can rarely find a local supplier puts it over the top. I have to sell a cupcake for $3.50 because by the time I add all my ingredients up, the packaging and the shipping costs, I have no choice.

I can use a GF flour you get in the supermarket, but the flour is course and does not yield me a product tastes like its glutinous counterpart. I want a cupcake that tastes like a cupcake, not a corn muffin. So I must get my flours extra finely milled and shipped from the other side of the country. Shipping costs half the price of my products, sometimes just as much, and I am buying about 300 pounds of it at a time. I am not even taking into consideration the time I take to blend those flours once the arrive. As breads and cakes have different blends.

I picked up coconut milk yogurt from UNFI the other day. It sells wholesale for $2 per 6 oz container and $2.59 in Kroger. So it tells you that they are not making a lot of money that the cost of food is high.

I feel your pain as one that eats allergen free, and I feel it even more as baker. Demand will drop the prices. But we are a way off from that.
 
it totally feels like highway robbery to me! i have no choice but to bake rarely because of the outrageous cost of flours/startches and that is just so completely sad to me - i was the baking mama before my celiac diag.
 
I totally agree about the cost of GF products being outrageously high, my daughter has to eat GF and we have learned to modify many recipes so that she can use them. I do belong to a natural foods coop and can order many flours and products in bulk, but they are still more expensive. We have learned to use many conventional ingredients and to be diligent in our label reading so that does bring our cost down somewhat, but it is still expensive and we are on a budget like most people. We buy a few ready-made foods, but have always been a "cook your own" kind of family so I think that makes a huge difference.
 
I'm in the same boat as Anonymous! I produce a Gluten Free Pizza Kit, and a whole wheat Pizza Kit, in Asheville NC. The raw materials are expensive, we have the same issues with having to purchase and ship from far away because of mill/courseness of the grains, packaging is VERY expensive and shipping is one of our biggest problems! In the end, we make very little in profit, but we love our product and know that as the numbers grow, so too will our business. We are bottom-line on profit, even for the whole wheat version. Who's making the money? Remember, it's a long chain from farm to table and everyone is making a very tiny bit. Food is expensive: real food, good food. Other goods from China have us believing that food should be cheap, and it just isn't. In the end, if we could charge less, we would!
 
I appreciate everyone's comments on this issue, and I'm especially glad to hear from a couple of people who sell gf products. It's helpful to hear from someone on the other side. I buy very few baked goods, but do bake from scratch. The cost of flours is part of my complaint here so I understand how that would affect the price of someone selling baked goods. Personally, I save some money by milling my own flours but I do have to buy the starches.

I agree that we should be eating mostly naturally gf foods, and I'm not trying to promote a processed food diet. As was mentioned, though, even things like gluten free pasta and oatmeal are very expensive. I also agree that we need to be willing to pay more for good food. That is something I have been adjusting my thinking on the past year.

I appreciate the point brought up about gluten free certification. I honestly had not thought about the cost of certification. I would be interested in know how much that does cost companies.

Thanks for a great discussion!
 
If Weight Watchers can make a delicious Gluten Free frozen entree (SANTA FE BEANS & RICE) and sell it for $1.50 at Walmart, one would think that other companies could to the same. Rice Chex cost no more than other cereal. Why is Gluten Free oatmeal so darn expensive???
 

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