Does gluten free HAVE to be so expensive?

By BE Gluten Free | GF Information

Sep 15

“They're gouging us just because we have to eat a ‘special' diet! There is NO WAY this stuff can cost so much!  I am going somewhere else to get my gluten free foods!”

How many times have we thought this about -anything-?  Many times it is probably an accurate statement.  Products manufactured in China (or any foreign country) USED to be cheaper (WAY cheaper) than manufacturing them here, and an astute company could re-double it's profits by moving overseas and continuing to sell here.  This is rapidly changing for a plethora of reasons…and is not (directly) the subject of this post.

One of the most often (over)heard comments at the Farmer's Market is something like “Those look really delicious, I have never seen this product available as gluten free…but those prices! Ouch!”.  While it is difficult for many to see the prices beyond justifying them as ‘gouging', it is even more difficult for us to have to put prices like that on the products.

One of our driving goals is to make gluten free food more affordable so that all people can enjoy it as a healthy alternative to the less healthy glutinous foods they are accustomed to.  We are always looking for suggestions of new items to try each week, and we're also looking for a few people willing to write reviews and taste test products as we develop them! (sorry – blatant plug for participation… but we do have the BEST customers with some pretty awesome ideas.  Or maybe it's just that our customers minds are clearer as they aren't gummed up with all that gluten??)

::The Basics::

One might then think that aside from flour costs all other expenses involved would be identical, bread isn't rocket science right? Unfortunately gluten free bread can actually seem like rocket science when you dig into making a quality replacement for regular bread. And while basic flour cost is the most obvious issue involved in the cost of GF goods, it is only one of many.

A 25 pound bag of regular (wheat) bread flour will retail for about $7.00 including shipping.  This wheat flour already contains the proteins to make bread ‘stick together' so we'll need to remember to ADD the cost of binders for GF comparisons.

A good GF bread is made from combining at least three different certified GF grains, typically (and unfortunately) one or more rice flours, plus one or more of the finer grained starches like tapioca.  …so:

Retail prices for 25 pound bags of rice flours average around $24.00 and shipping is roughly $0.50 per pound…making a 25 pound bag of rice flour approximately $36.00 – or roughly FIVE TIMES as expensive as regular gluten flours.  This alone would make a rough guess for GF breads to be about $12.00 to $15.00 per loaf (local Glutinous breads, fresh made are $4.25 per loaf…which would be more than $20.00!! per loaf of gluten free)

::Rocket Science::

Then you get to the additional costs beyond the flours; Eggs, Xanthan\Guar Gums, Fats.  This is where the real science in making a Gluten Free bread comes into play*. For the purposes of this post here's what we are interested in:

Eggs
— roughly three to six times as many eggs may be used in gluten free breads as compared to regular.  Gluten free breads benefit from the added moisture and protein, as well as volumizing that eggs provide. This will increase costs roughly $0.40 PER additional egg and in some cases that can add more than $1.20 to the cost!

Binders
— Xanthan gum will run you between $0.03 and $0.06 per gram with roughly 6 – 10 grams per loaf of bread being somewhat “normal” (three quarters teaspoon per cup of flour).  Adding another $0.20 to $0.60 per loaf.

::Summary::

So, the average cost of additional eggs and binders adds a minimum of $1.00 to $1.50 per loaf of Gluten Free bread.  Estimating the flour cost (I still need to do actual ‘cups per pound' for each type of flour and then calculate ratios of each flour in a ‘basic' bread mix, but…) to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.00.
That puts a Loaf of Gluten Free bread right around $3.50 in costs.  If you figure it takes 2 hours to make a single loaf of bread that retails for roughly $8.00 you'll find that the per hour rate is about $2.25.
At a typical Farmers Market sales of 8 – 10 loaves of bread in a six hour shift brings the per hour rate for making and selling GF breads to about…$3.00 to $3.75 per hour, or about half of the minimum wage with no benefits.

About the Author

Classically trained in Biology and Genetics at the University of Minnesota St. Paul Biological Sciences campus. Gluten free for more than 5 years.