Why is gluten free so expensive?
As a coeliac myself, I understand the frustration on the cost of gluten free products vs the ‘standard versions’. With the cost of living constantly rising the question on why gluten free is more expensive, is ever more important. When you have to eat gluten free, because your health depends on it, is it fair to pay more for your food?
I can only give my perspective as both a coeliac and a business owner, producing high quality gluten free breads. I wanted to give you an insight on how we, and many gluten free manufacturers make our products with costs in mind.
Firstly, choosing a supplier for an ingredient is the initial hurdle. As our site is also 14 allergen free, we have the added difficulty of looking at ingredients that have the guarantee that there is no contamination with any major allergen, including things like nuts, milk, eggs and so on.
The number of suppliers who can offer the specific flours we need, in the volumes we need, with the quality maintained AND most importantly, the guarantee of no cross contamination is limited.
Secondly, the ingredients we use are more specialist. We use a range of ancient grains like sorghum, millet, teff, brown rice etc. Compared with wheat flour, these flours are far less readily available. Due to the industrialisation of milling methods, and the genetic modifications of wheat, wheat flour can be produced far more quickly, and in vast quantities - the result, it’s cheap!
This brings us to our third and most important point on the ingredients. Even a high quality, organic whole wheat flour, compared with one of our gluten free flours, is much cheaper. If we take sorghum as an example - it is 68% more expensive from the same supplier, than a whole wheat organic flour. Some of our flours are more than double the cost of a standard whole wheat flour. This has a huge impact on the cost of making the products. These costs are comparable for other gluten free ingredients.
If we use oats as another example. Oats are naturally gluten free, but due to the processing and storage of oats, they are often contaminated with gluten containing grains. You might have noticed in the supermarket that oats labeled ‘gluten free’ can cost 3 times more! For a naturally gluten free product, it is astonishing. Not only does the processing have to be done in a completely separate plant, but they have to be grown in fields that have not had wheat grown in them!!
Another difficulty of making gluten free products is innovation. For anyone that has attempted baking at home, you’ll know that gluten free dough acts very differently to ‘standard’ dough. Gluten free products can be quite different in how they are made, how they are cooked or baked, and how they react to different processes.
Innovations in how to make the products are vital. Standard off the shelf solutions for many food producers do not work with gluten free, and the solutions that are available are usually extremely expensive. As a small business, it’s difficult to justify spending £200k on one piece of machinery!
These are a couple of examples of the things impacting the cost of making a gluten free product.
I’m not sure what that is, but I am hopeful that as gluten free becomes more mainstream, and more people are aware of the need for gluten free, the large suppliers can look for efficiencies to bring down the costs of both ingredients and equipment. These factors would have a significant impact on the end cost for the shopper.
I hope this has given a little insight into why gluten free is more expensive, and the reassurance that as a coeliac and a producer, we are always doing what we can to bring these costs down.