Why are Gluten-Free Products so Expensive?
As a coeliac or someone suffering from gluten sensitivity, it’s easy to think that the gluten-free product manufacturers are out to get you.
A popular complaint in the gluten-free community is that when compared to regular products, gluten-free options are regularly twice the price, if not much more.
Sometimes it seems downright unfair that gluten-free products cost so much more than regular staple items. So why are gluten free products so expensive?
In this article I hope to lay down a few reasons why gluten-free alternatives cost so much more. As angry as this issue may make you, it’s important to look at the situation from all angles.
Are the manufacturers trying to take advantage of you, or are they charging a reasonable price for their product?
In all honesty, I think the latter, and in this quick article I hope to give you some reasons why charging a more expensive price is quite reasonable for gluten free products.
So let’s take a look at why gluten free products are more expensive.
1. The market is MUCH smaller
Like any business, supply and demand has a huge effect on price. Unfortunately for us gluten-avoiding kind, gluten-free products make up just a tiny percent of the overall market size.
With only a small number of people to sell gluten free foods to, companies naturally can’t take advantage of “economies of scale”.
Economies of scale is a term used in business referring to the benefits of mass market selling – the more you can sell, the cheaper you can produce your product for.
Unfortunately for gluten free manufacturers, those numbers are much smaller than their main-market competitors. This results in gluten-free products being more expensive than their standard counterparts.
2. More ingredients are used
Typically, bread related products require three basic ingredients: flour, water and yeast. Of course extra ingredients may be used for more extravagant breads, but at their core, only 3 ingredients are necessary for regular dough-based products.
On the other hand, gluten-free products can use dozens of ingredients. In order to replicate the authenticity of flour-based bread products, manufacturers need to use extra ingredients like Xanthan gum, sugar, potato starch, corn flour, tapioca, stabilisers and the list goes on.
All of these extra ingredients add to manufacturer’s bottom line, a cost which is passed on to us, the gluten-free consumer.
3. Gluten-Free Food is more expensive to produce
Not only do gluten-free foods require more ingredients, but those individual ingredients are usually more expensive as well.
Regular wheat flour is a highly available and cheap raw ingredient. Tapioca starch, unfortunately, is not. And therefore it is more expensive.
On an industrial scale, all that rice flour, xanthan gum and sugar adds significant expense to the cost of producing gluten free products.
4. Gluten-Free Certifications
Depending on the country you live in, different laws may apply to the advertising and packaging of certain products.
In many countries, for companies to label their foods as “gluten free”, they must first have been certified to do so.
In the great scheme of things this won’t add huge costs for the manufacturer, but it is still an additional cost that must be considered.
5. Cross contamination issues
Cross contamination is a big issue in the gluten free industry.
You may have heard this term thrown around in relation to oats. Oats are a cereal grain which are typically gluten free. However they are often harvested and processed using the same equipment that is used to harvest gluten containing grains like wheat.
This results in the oats being exposed to dust from grains like wheat, and subsequently being contaminated with gluten.
So what has this got to do with the price of gluten-free bread?
In order to produce gluten free foods, manufacturers need to completely avoid cross contamination of ingredients. This means they need to use completely separate equipment (and often separate factories) to ensure your food stays safe.
Even restaurants offering gluten free foods will need to use separate fryers and work areas to avoid cross contamination.
This adds a significant cost to the production of gluten free food as manufacturers need to buy two sets of equipment.
It’s very easy to get frustrated at the cost of gluten free foods, especially if you have young gluten-sensitive children who want to eat the same foods as other kids their age.
But in my opinion, it’s important not to think the manufacturers are taking advantage of us.
Each of the points listed in this article are genuine reasons why gluten free food is more expensive. Each reasons adds to the manufacturer’s bottom line, which I believe is fairly passed on to the consumer.
An important thing to keep in mind is that manufacturers are in no way obligated to subsidise the cost of of gluten free products.
There has recently been fiery debate around government subsidies in the UK for coeliac patients, but the world of business is subject to a free market.
The price of gluten free food is sometimes hard to swallow, especially without feeling victimised, but unfortunately the gluten-free market isn’t yet big enough to compete with the low cost of everyday staples.
Since being diagnosed as coeliac, one of the ways I have overcome the expense of gluten free food is by changing my diet so i don’t rely on them.
I personally do not think it is healthy to frequently consume gluten-free alternative food and there is growing evidence to support this.
As so I choose to eat them as infrequent treat, which in turn helps me keep some extra pennies in my pocket.
I know this is a tough issue for many people out there. How does the price of gluten free food affect your budget and lifestyle?
Let us know in the comments!