The Soaring Costs of Gluten-Free Products

February 12, 2017
By , Pittsburgh, PA

Imagine needing to buy a product but the price is more than double what it should be and is not affordable. Gluten-free products are an example of a product like that. A person looking to buy a gluten-free product is most likely out of luck if they do not have the money. The prices are too high, and they need to be reduced. The prices of gluten-free products need to be reduced because gluten-free products are necessary for some people, too expensive for the average person to afford, and more costly than regular products.

A major reason to reduce the prices of gluten-free products is that for people with celiac disease, these products are a necessity. Celiac disease is when a person has an unusual reaction to gluten by the immune system. When someone with this disease eats gluten, “that person's immune system causes an inflammatory response in the small intestine, which damages the tissues and results in an impaired ability to absorb nutrients from foods” (Sims). Inflammation can cause the person to have severe pain in their abdomen and other digestive issues. With that being said, living with this disease comes as a struggle to its victims, and the cause of the disease is unknown, so there really is no way to prevent it. Anyone can be blindsided by it. When faced with the disease, the foundations of a person’s diet and grocery expenses change dramatically. They can no longer eat any product with gluten--and there are more things that contain gluten than expected: “[Hidden sources of gluten include] ingredients added to foods to improve texture or enhance flavor and products used in food packaging [may contain gluten]. Gluten may even be present on surfaces used for food preparation or cooking” (Sims). People with violent forms of celiac disease can present symptoms from things like the packaging and cross-contamination from preparation. For people who cannot keep up with the prices of their diet, the consequences can be detrimental. When a person continues a regular diet for too long, damage can occur: “The resulting inflammation causes damage to the delicate finger-like structures in the intestine, called villi, where food absorption actually takes place. This damage is referred to as villus atrophy” (Sims). Villus atrophy is risky because it can eventually lead to malnutrition, a potentially deadly consequence. The necessity of a gluten-free diet for some people is reason to lower the unreasonable prices.

In addition to the products being a necessity, another reason to reduce the prices of gluten-free products is that they are more costly than products without gluten. The prices are far more than expected. Based on a study by Canadian researchers at Dalhousie University, gluten-free products “were 242% more expensive than regular products (+/- 212; range, 5% to 1,000%)” (Stevens).  That number shows that the price of gluten-free products is more than double the price of regular products. A similar study was conducted by researchers at Columbia University, where they looked at the prices of regular and gluten-free foods at different kinds of stores. They found that “the gluten-free products were generally 123% more expensive in [a] health food store” (Lee 425). The gluten-free products, already more expensive than the regular ones, were becoming more expensive than themselves at a different kind of store. People are generally more drawn to a health food store: it is much more appealing than the average grocery store. Everyone wants to be healthier. Whether people are interested in a gluten-free diet to improve health or need it as treatment for health issues, it is extremely difficult to find a reasonably priced product. This is a major turn off for consumers: it is bad for the company and bad for the consumer. The shockingly greater prices of gluten-free products is even more reason to lower the inflated prices.
Along with the necessity and higher prices of gluten-free products, a final reason to reduce the prices of gluten-free products is that they can be too expensive for the average person to pay for. Individuals who want or need a gluten-free diet often end up cheating on this diet because they cannot keep up with the expenses. One Boston family who went gluten-free and was interviewed by CBS, for example, experienced a dramatic increase in the price of their weekly grocery trip. It went from “$90 per week on groceries for her family of four, [to] at least $130” (Gluten).  With that being said, this family spends about 4,600 dollars on their groceries in one year. When gluten-free products are replacing the regular ones, that number increases to about 6,800 dollars (Gluten). Additionally, the average person spends about seven percent of their annual income on groceries (Annual). With the average income being between fifty and sixty thousand dollars, the average household spends between three thousand and four thousand dollars on groceries each year (United). This number can nearly double with the expenses of a gluten-free diet. According to an interview by CBS, two women with celiac disease had a saddening thing in common: “The lofty price of their gluten-free diets is hard to swallow” (Gluten). They are lucky enough to afford to keep up with their necessary diet, yet they still struggle with the soaring prices. Families or individuals who cannot afford to move their budget, though, cannot begin a gluten-free diet. What will happen, though, if they have to? Families can be put into financial trouble--if they were not in it already--just by changing their diet. Therefore, people who cannot afford gluten-free products may cheat on their diet, leading to further health risks. Individuals and families being unable to purchase gluten-free products is a sad but important reason to lower the prices.

It is understandable that for companies, like consumers, the transition to gluten-free products can be costly and difficult. Businesses that produce gluten-free products must be able to pay the high costs it takes to produce them, so they then raise the retail price. Additionally, companies must acquire a “costly and time consuming” gluten-free certification (Why).While this may be reasonable, big companies such as Dole and General Mills have such profitable companies that the cost of gluten-free products is not too big of a stretch. The conversion to or addition of gluten-free products is certainly a huge change for a company, but it has been a long time since these products have come into the marketplace: they no longer need to be as expensive as they were in the beginning.

The prices of gluten-free products must be reduced. The toll the prices take on people with celiac disease is tremendous. The consistently unreasonable prices are unnerving. The frustration it causes families when they cannot afford them is disheartening. Contacting companies selling or producing gluten-free products--such as Whole Foods or Betty Crocker--can be the first step to achieving the change that so many people seek. Reducing the prices of gluten-free products would help so many people, whether they need or just want them.


Works Cited
Annual Income Spent on Food. Digital image. Washington State Magazine. Washington State
University, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.
"A Gluten Free Diet, How Much Will It Cost You?" CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 25 Feb. 2014.
Web. 21 Nov. 2016.
Lee, Anne R. Economic Burden of a Gluten-free Diet. Celiac Disease Center at Columbia
University. The British Dietetic Association, 2007. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.
Sims, Judith, and Amy Vance. "Celiac Disease." Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale, 2011.           
Web. 21 Nov. 2016.
Stevens, L., and M. Rashid. "Gluten-free and Regular Foods: A Cost Comparison." National
Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2008. Web. 21
Nov. 2016
United States. United States Department of Commerce. United States Census Bureau. Map:
Median Household Income in the United States: 2015. United States Census Bureau,
Sept. 2016. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.
"Why Are Gluten-free Products So Expensive? - The Gluten Free Times." The Gluten Free
Times. The Gluten Free Times, 04 Oct. 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

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