The Great Gluten Free Rip Off
It’s twelve years since I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease and had to start navigating the murky waters of gluten free shopping and eating. In that time, gluten free provision and recipes have improved massively. It’s not nearly as hard to find gluten free options if you eat out (with some noticeable exceptions); supermarkets stock far more gluten free lines than they used; gluten free foods have improved in taste, though there’s definitely still room for improvement.
Do you know what hasn’t changed in all that time? Price.
If you want to shop gluten free at your supermarket you’d best raid the piggy bank first.
Most people in the UK who have Coeliac Disease (an autoimmune disease which attacks the healthy cells in the gut and which is triggered by gluten consumption) have access to some basic gluten free foods on the NHS. Not free or charge, I hasten to add (in England, at least) – the prescription charge applies to each item, which is why most of us pay for a prepayment card which costs around £10 a month. What is available and how much you can order has changed a lot over the last twelve years.
I used to be able to order biscuits (but not chocolate ones!) and breakfast cereals, but these have recently disappeared in my area. Not that I ever ordered biscuits, but I did order oats, because I love porridge. I used to be able to order 8 loaves of bread a month, plus pasta and flour but my entitlement has been halved, because NICE (the prescription authority), notes that gluten free alternatives are widely available in supermarkets, at a comparable price.
Well, they’re certainly available, but I don’t think they are comparable in price. I’ve just had my shopping delivered – shall we compare some prices?
Tesco Stay Fresh White Medium Bread 800g – 55p (7p/100g)
Tesco Free From Sliced White Bread 550g – £2.00 (36p/100g)
Tesco Fusilli Pasta Twists 500g – 59p (£1.18/kg)
Tesco Free From Fusilli Pasta 500g – £1.20 (£2.40/kg)
Flour (switching to Asda, as Tesco don’t sell own label GF flour)
Asda Plain Flour 1.5kg – 77p (51.3p/kg)
Asda Chosen By You Gluten Free Plain Flour 1KG – £1.65 (£1.65/KG)
Tesco Cornflakes Cereal 500g – 99p (20p/100g)
Tesco Free From Cornflakes 300g – £1.50 (50p/100g)
I know you must be thinking that gluten free alternatives are more expensive to make, and I’m sure they are but, still. Cornflakes are made from corn, which is gluten free. Most manufacturers add barley malt extract to cereals, which is not gluten free. Tesco Free From Cornflakes contain maize (corn), sugar and salt. And that’s it. Their ordinary cornflakes also contain those three ingredients, as well as Dextrose, Barley Malt Extract, Iron, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Folic Acid, Vitamin D and Vitamin B12, yet they are 30p per 100g cheaper!
What prompted me to post today though was the arrival of a packet of Mcvities Gluten Free Chocolate HobNobs. I knew they were more expensive but I wanted to know what they tasted like. Let me tell you, they are divine. However, they ought to be – £2.19 for a packet of EIGHT biscuits! Eight! In comparison, the ordinary chocolate hobnobs were a mere £1.50 per packet – for a lot more biscuits! (£1.46/100g for GF compared to 57g/100g for the ordinary ones). And what feats of culinary wizardry took place to justify the increased price? Wheat flour was replaced with oat flour. Seriously?
Whilst it’s nice to see mainstream brands stepping up and developing good gluten free versions of popular items, it’s less refreshing to realise they see the gluten free market as a cash cow. Jump on the bandwagon and charge a premium.
I know there are plenty of people who adopt a gluten free diet thinking it will help them lose weight (I have news for them – it won’t, unless you’re completely cutting out carbs. Gluten Free alternatives usually contain more sugar than ordinary foods), but the majority of people have to eat gluten free for medical reasons.
Coeliac Disease is no party. Eating even a tiny amount of gluten (maybe a couple of breadcrumbs that fell into a Subway salad, for instance), can cause illness. The effects of Coeliac Disease can be serious – anaemia (no walk in the park when it causes you to lose consciousness), bowel cancer, infertility, miscarriage … and more.
It’s for this reason that it makes me so cross when companies decide to charge so much more for gluten free foods. Yes, there are some extra costs involved in making the products, but these are slight in comparison to the increased cost we have to pay. We’re not eating a fad diet – completely excluding gluten from the diet is the only treatment for Coeliac Disease. There’s no magic pill, no vaccination. The symptoms can be treated individually, but that doesn’t stop the permanent damage that occurs inside the body. The only way to prevent that damage is eating a gluten free diet.
I know premiums are charged in other arenas too, such as diabetic chocolate for instance. There’s a difference though. My diabetes nurse told me that they don’t recommend using diabetes friendly alternative products – she said they were unnecessary, not nutritious and expensive. In contrast, she considers gluten free alternatives a necessity – not the biscuits and chocolate and such, but the basics like bread, flour and pasta.
I think it’s time for companies to stop exploiting us for a quick buck!