Gluten free bread is expensive – but I think we need to move on

There are many reviews popping up over the blogosphere of the recent launch of the first fresh gluten free wrap on the market that actually wraps! It’s something of a revelation* and certainly a major technical achievement for Warburton’s Newburn Bakehouse range – so a big round of applause to them; but as with many new gluten free product launches, the £2.99 price tag (for 3 wraps) has caused lots of disgruntled comments on Twitter and Facebook.

Enjoying the Newburn Bakehouse wrap as a burrito

Enjoying the Newburn Bakehouse wrap as a burrito

Now I agree that gluten free food is often expensive, and I would definitely welcome a reduction in price. The cost is the reason coeliacs have access to gluten free prescriptions, however I think we need to move on – I don’t think it’s always unjustifiably expensive; and I don’t think it’s fair to compare with gluten-containing foods. Here’s why:

1. It’s expensive for a reason

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think gluten free manufacturers are trying to exploit people who need to eat gluten free. If we want to have ‘like for like’ on taste without having the same ingredients, we don’t get to have like for like on price because gluten free products…

  • …Cost more to develop – Warburtons spent 10 months working on their wrap – that’s a lot of investment in something as simple as a piece of bread.
  • …Contain more expensive ingredients from further afield – tapioca and rice flour from certified gluten-free sources for example. See the impact of needing use pure oats on the relative costs of the Nairn’s gluten free oatcakes (£1.25 per 100g) and normal oatcakes (36p per 100g) which otherwise have the same ingredients and are the same product.
  • …Need tighter production controls – small producers who go through product testing can testify to the cost of the process. Warburtons invested in an entirely separate production facility to ensure the free from status of the products, and our safety – that doesn’t come cheap either.
  • …Don’t benefit from economies of scale – the market is smaller so there isn’t the capacity to get discounts on source ingredients, production and transport.

2. A better comparison is what you would pay for what you would have as an alternative

When I consider how much I am willing to pay for gluten free bread – I consider two things:

  • Do I think it’s worth the money? £3 for a loaf of bread that is riddled with holes and falls apart? No chance. £2.99 for yummy wraps that mean I can enjoy a delicious burrito on the streets of Cork with my mates? I’ll happily cut back on another treat for that experience every so often.
  • How does the price compare to the gluten free food I would otherwise have? I make a packed lunch most days for work for both cost and health reasons – sometimes it’s a sandwich. If I didn’t, the alternative wouldn’t be a gluten-containing product, it would be a salad from Pret or POD or some sushi from Itsu. I’d easily spend £6-8 on lunch, as opposed to the £2-3 I spend on ingredients including gluten free breads.

3. Don’t make it the mainstay of your diet

I agree that things like gluten free bread can be great because they provide convenience and comfort – they make us feel normal in a gluten-containing world; but the simple answer to the cost of the product, is not to buy so much of it.

It’s been well documented in the mainstream media, and on this great blog that gluten free options are not healthy – they often contain more calories, fat and sugar than the gluten-containing versions, and shouldn’t form the basis of our diet.

I started enjoying my life as a coeliac more when I stopped being obsessed with having cake, or being able to get a sandwich on the move, and started exploring the many less-expensive and naturally gluten free alternatives I could still enjoy. Thus breakfast is often fruit and yogurt (or scrambled eggs at the weekend), lunch is soup or a salad. Rice and potatoes form the basis of most of our evening meals. Of course I still have the occasional sandwich or gluten free pasta, but my diet is delicious and varied without having it every day.

4. Endless harking back to gluten-containing life will only make you depressed

Someone asked me the other day what gluten-containing foods I really missed, and I struggled to answer because I don’t tend to focus on it. When I did answer started feeling sad about Chinese takeaway – no fun! Standing in front of the croissants at Sainsbury’s, meeping quietly to yourself isn’t helpful, might lead to you cheating on the diet and certainly won’t make you any happier. The sad fact is, if you have to eat gluten-free, life has changed and our shopping basked needs to aswell – try to move forwards positively and use it as an opportunity to eat more healthily, learn more about food and get well!

So in conclusion, I think we should hope for improvements in price as market demand and competition grows and there are ingredient and product innovations, but the price of bread isn’t the be-all and end-all of living a happy, healthy (and inexpensive) gluten free life!

What do you think? Is £2.99 a fair price for gluten free wraps?

*I should state that Newburn Bakehouse provided me with the wrap to try ahead of it being released in supermarkets. I generally do not review ‘freebies’ on the blog, but this issue caused such a twitter storm, so please bear in mind my potential lack of impartiality in my enthusiasm for the new product!

17 responses to “Gluten free bread is expensive – but I think we need to move on

  1. Yes! If you just consider the many different ingredients that go into making gluten free bread, it makes sense that it’s more costly that wheat bread. There really is no point in comparing GF bread of cakes to their wheaty counterparts, they’re just not the same product.

    Thanks for laying it out in such a helpful way.

  2. There is also a company I saw at the IFE exhibition in London called Bfree http://www.bfreefoods.com/our-range/
    They have also developed a wrap but it’s not yet on their website.
    I know that they are based in Ireland and trying to get distribution into the UK.

    They let me have a packet of wraps which come in a pack of 6. All you do is put the wrap in the microwave for over a minute and bobs your uncle – I nearly exploded with excitement as the last time I tried a wrap was over 10-years ago! It was fab!

    I’m not sure as to the price tag yet but they’ve got some really nice bread rolls that I tried too – the loaves of bread were a little bit like soda bread and I wasn’t as keen on them, but keep your eyes on this company – I reckon they’ll do really well if they can get into the UK soon!

      • I recommend you don’t! The BFree wraps done even wrap. They smell really bad and taste bad and look even worse. They’re absolutely disgusting in smell, taste and look. I wasted £4 buying them from Tesco. They come in a six wrap packet. Never again!

  3. The look lovely and sound lovely but sadly they contain milk so I can’t try them. I do love what Warburtons are doing though but will be gently reminding them that many of us have multiple food allergies and many with coeliac disease of wheat intolerance/allergy can also not have any dairy either. I was very sad, but I did get someone else to reveiw them. Great blog post by the way. http://whatallergy.com/2013-03/gluten-and-wheat-free-tortilla-wraps-from-the-newburn-bakery

    • Thanks Ruth – a shame you can’t have them :( I hear there are some wraps also launching in Asda soon – perhaps they will be milk free?

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  6. Interesting. I think that we need to develop more food that comes from a different direction. GF food is expensive because of how its made and by whom it is made and the legislation in place. There are many Indian and African and SE Asian foods that are completely safe for westerners with coeliac and gluten intolerance.

    BUT lets look at the statistics first. Around 1% of the population (US stats) have coeliac and some maybe don’t even know it yet. US research suggests that maybe up to 20% (sound high) of the population has a problem with at least wheat. So the economics argument in preparation is not really the issue because a lot of the population would benefit from wide availability producers have to produce more gf food!!!

    Personally I think the root goes to farming practice (again in the pursuit of efficiency) as coeliac disease is yet another relatively modern phenomena (certainly in the extent of diagnosis). This one is not about whether you live longer because it crops up at an early age so my suspicion is tat it tis he food chain that is the issue.

  7. I have been shopping on Ocado and didn’t realise you could get these wraps until reading your blog. Ocado only stock the seeded version, but I see you can get the plain ones at Tesco. My partner is really excited to try them. I have no problem with paying a pound for each one – try comparing GF products with the cost of beer instead of the gluten alternative. Pint of Peroni 4.50, or 3 wraps for 3 quid. Bargain! :)

  8. Make your own roti (the indian equivalent) from sorghum four (juwar flour) – you could make about 40 (at least – but depends on where you buy your flour from) and freeze the ones you aren’t going to eat for 3 quid. GF food is way out of line with costs and in my humble opinion consumers of GF food are being exploited.

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  10. Odlums in southern Ireland make Tritamyl gluten free flour. It is wheat flour with the gluten removed. Reasonably cheap in supermarkets in Ireland (around 3- 4 pound for 2kg bag) not available in England. Why don’t UK supermarkets stock this (and I have written to a number to suggest it). Perhaps supermarkets in the UK also want to make big profits from gluten free ?

    • Personally speaking I have found supermarkets reluctant to stock gluten free wheat products. I think they are confusing for consumers and limit the numbers of people suitable for – I.e not simultaneously suitable for people who are wheat intolerant or allergic. Lots of coeliacs avoid them too.

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  12. Not all Free From products are more expensive than the regular equivalent. My Compan @FreeFromItaly supply gluten, dairy and nut free pesto under the Le Conserve Della Nonna brand. It retails for £2 in Asda and at Ocado. Thats a 50p saving on the brand leader. Not only is it cheaper we believe its better quality. We were Highly Commended and the Free From Food Awards and also at The Restaurant Show which is a general show for Chefs.

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