For the last few years, I have followed a strictly gluten-free diet. I have had various health problems over the years and was put on a low-FODMAP diet. This elimination diet involved removing a variety of things from my diet – from onions to garlic, dairy to soya. After the reintroduction period, I found that I was unable to eat gluten, lactose, onions, and soy. While all of these things can be tricky to avoid, particularly when eating out at a restaurant, the cost of gluten-free foods definitely has the highest impact.
Gluten-free foods were once a controversial subject, as the NHS provided certain gluten-free items to those with Celiac disease and severe gluten intolerances. But more of us than ever have now discovered we are gluten intolerant, with gluten intolerances four times more likely today than in the 1950s, and that’s not taking into account illnesses such as IBD and IBS where eliminating gluten can sometimes be helpful (of course, always consult a doctor when making any major diet changes).
While eating gluten-free has become easier in the last few years, with far more options available and far more palatable than the dry gluten-free bread of days past, the price of gluten-free products continues to skyrocket. Brands know that those of us who can’t eat gluten have no other option than to buy gluten-free versions of certain foods, lest we end up avoiding them altogether, and therefore we’re a captive audience. I’ve found that all supermarkets in the U.K. charge a similar price for their gluten-free range, with a slight difference between say Marks and Spencer and Asda. I used Sainsbury’s as a middle ground to gather prices of a range of gluten-free and standard products, as well as comparing lactose-free milk to standard milk. Here are the prices of products with common gluten-free alternatives taken from the Sainsbury’s website as of 6/10/19:
|Product||Standard Price||Gluten-Free Price|
|Porridge Oats||£0.75 ($0.95)||£2.00 ($2.54)|
|Dried Penne Pasta||£0.55 ($0.70)||£1.25 ($1.59)|
|Loaf of white bread||£1.10 ($1.40)||£3.50 ($4.45)|
|Cornflake||£1.00 ($1.27)||£1.50 ($1.91)|
|Plain flour||£0.75 ($0.95)||£1.50 ($1.91)|
|Self-raising flour||£0.75 ($0.95)||£1.50 ($1.91)|
|Cheese and tomato pizza||£1.80 ($2.29)||£2.50 ($3.18)|
|Garlic Baguette||£1.60 ($2.03)||£2.50 ($3.18)|
|Ready-made vegetable lasagna||£2.00 ($2.54)||£2.40 ($3.05)|
|Milk (standard and lactose-free)||£0.80 ($1.02)||£1.10 ($1.40)|
|Biscuits (Hobnobs)||£0.75 ($0.95)||£1.00 ($1.27)|
|Total||£11.85 ($15.07)||£20.75 ($26.39)|
In every single instance, the gluten-free option was more expensive, with gluten-free alternatives often double or more than double the price of the standard product. What’s worse is that not only are the gluten-free options usually more expensive, they are usually significantly smaller, sometimes even half the size of the standard product:
|Product||Standard Product Weight||Gluten-Free Product Weight|
|Dried Penne Pasta||500g||500g|
|Loaf of white bread||800g||400g|
|Cheese and tomato pizza||265g||300g|
|Ready-made vegetable lasagna||400g||269g|
|Milk (standard and lactose-free)||1.13L||1L|
For example, a branded packet of biscuits such as Hobnobs are 25p more expensive for the gluten-free option, but the packet contains half the weight, meaning that the standard Hobnobs are 25p per 100g while the gluten-free Hobnobs are 33p per 100g. The difference is even more shocking for bread. An 800g loaf of white bread costs £1.10 while it’s gluten-free counterpart weighs 400g and costs £3.50. This means that the standard loaf costs approximately 14p per 100g while the gluten-free option costs approximately 88p per 100g.
Now, of course, there are reasons why the cost of gluten-free food is higher, as production lines need to be cleaned between the two and ingredients cost more down the supply chain. However, it does seem that companies are continually inflating prices for “free from” products, as this often happens with vegan and dairy-free products as well. If I were to buy all of these products in my weekly shop, being gluten intolerant would cost me an extra £8.90 ($11.32) a week. (I might need to buy more of the gluten-free products because they weigh less and this list isn’t exhaustive, however for the sake of brevity, we will use the list above.) Over a year, this additional cost would come to £462.80 ($588.39). Is it really fair for companies to make this much from customers who have dietary requirements?
Here in the U.K., there are calls for legislation to restrict the difference between the cost of standard and “free from” products. However, I also feel that there needs to be an investigation into the weight difference in these products. Not only are we paying far more, but we are getting far less for our money and many of us might not even realize. When it comes to bread, slices are often so small that we need to eat twice as many slices to get the same amount of food meaning that we need to buy more than if we were eating the standard product.
At the end of the day, a dietary requirement is a health need, which consumers shouldn’t be punished for. Although there will always be some disparity between prices, it is time brands offered comparable products with comparable weights and had prices that were fair, rather than inflated to make the most out of consumers who have no choice but to buy the gluten-free option.
Hannah Bullimore is a writer and blogger from Newcastle, England. She loves learning about ethical fashion, health, and wellbeing and is an avid reader. In 2019 she will be training to be a yoga teacher and continuing to teach creative writing as a form of self-care. She writes lifestyle posts and book reviews on her blog, which can be found here.
Image via Unsplash