You TubeFacebookTwitterflickrGoogle plus
Saturday, 20 April 2019 06:03 pm

Consumer demand for gluten-free food on the rise – but so is the price

FOOD prices have always been a problem for the average consumer, but for those whose diet is restricted to gluten-free products the issue is an uphill battle, reports ROBBIE PARKES.

FOR many, gluten-free is a choice and high consumer prices are a by-product of that decision.

But for those living with coeliac disease and a gluten-intolerance, the search for the right food at a cheap price is a lifelong struggle.

“It’s a struggle to find anything at a low price,” says Meg Valentine, a coeliac sufferer.

“It limits your food choices because everything has to be checked for gluten. This is really difficult when eating out.”

She says that the price of specialty food is way too high and a growth in the market really should enable those prices to drop.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine while a gluten intolerance or sensitivity to gluten is an adverse reaction.

Coeliac disease is hereditary and can only be treated by a lifelong gluten-free diet.

Christopher Harper suffers from ulcerative colitis, an auto-immune disease affecting the bowel, and he says eating gluten-free eliminates a lot of the symptoms.

He says as long as you make the right choices, the variety of food available for sufferers is out there.

“Cooking at home with whole ingredients is a sure way of achieving this,” he says.

“I don’t really buy gluten-free products other than bread.”

“There seems to be a good range of junk-food alternatives for those who need them though.”

He shops at organic and wholefood shops by choice but says that supermarkets tend to stock a gluten-free range.

Like Ms Valentine, he says with the prices of gluten-free products should be dropped.

“That would be nice, though the products are aimed at a minority,” he says.

“I think all prices should be reduced.”

He says that the number of people diagnosed with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance is growing rapidly, rather than the number of people choosing gluten-free as a healthy option.

“Digestive conditions are increasing at an alarming rate due to industrial monoculture farming practices and the general public eating very, very bad junk-food,” he says.

Coeliac New Zealand development manager Sue Clay says price is becoming a big factor for coeliac sufferers, especially with an expanding market.

“The age-old cry of our members is that they want more choice of gluten-free product at a cheaper price, the choice is happening, but not a drop in price as far as we can see,” she says.

She says there are few firm facts around numbers suffering from the disease in New Zealand.

Based on overseas research, around one in 100 people have coeliac disease, but of these only one in five is diagnosed.

But, she says around one in 82 New Zealanders could be suffering from the disease based on a 2001 study in Christchurch.

“We do believe the numbers with coeliac disease is increasing here as it is worldwide,” she says.

“Many do not know they have it and many of these will likely fall into the gluten intolerant category.”

A government-funded subsidy is available for coeliac sufferers but most are only made aware of it after being diagnosed.

PHARMAC is the NZ Government agency that decides which medicines and related products receive public subsidies.

Dieticians, specialists and GP’s can write prescriptions to those diagnosed with the disease for them to get a subsidy on gluten-free products.

However, PHARMAC communications manager Simon England  says the agency will cease active management of gluten-free products.

“This will mean that, should manufacturers decide to increase their prices, PHARMAC will not increase the subsidy and so patients will pay a larger share of the cost,” he says.

Manufacturers have also seen a growth in the demand for gluten-free products.

A Quality Bakers factory was established in Huntly last year to cater to the increasing demand for gluten-free products in New Zealand.

Julia Purcell from Goodman Fielder’s Consumer Advisory Centre, which owns Quality Bakers, says from their own statistics they have seen a rise in demand for gluten-free products.

She says because of a rise in consumer demand, the product range has grown and a new site was necessary to meet those demands.

“It shows people perceive gluten-free as a healthy alternative,” she says.

A number of factors influence the prices of the products and the necessity to keep them at the higher spectrum.

The site is limited by the fact it is the company’s only gluten-free dedicated factory and delivers nationwide.

“All those kinds of factors influence gluten-free production,” she says.

A price reduction depends on the market and whether a big enough growth requires prices to be dropped.

However, she says Goodman Fielder statistics and knowledge are based off consumers not those with clinical diagnoses.

Commonsense Organics managing director Marion Wood says that consumer demand for their products has definitely risen.

“We’ve seen a huge increase over the last 10, 20 years,” she says.

“The range is growing all the time. As the range grows and the market grows, prices will drop.”

She says price drops are a gradual thing, but that we should not expect much considering the nature of the market. “Because it’s a minority market it’s more expensive.”

She says the manufacturing process for gluten-free products is more complicated than consumers think.

The basic food crops are inexpensive, but the process in making those specialised products creates those costs.

Unless there is a gluten-free dedicated processing plant, the actual manufacturing process takes more time and effort and money.

She says a reduction in prices would be great, but it is not a realistic option. “It’s a question of making sure that you can pay your staff,” she says.

“The people who are growing food and the people who are turning out the food need to live. In the end if you want food to be dirt cheap you’ll end up eating dirt.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

is a Whitireia journalism student
Email this author | All posts by

One comment
Leave a comment »

  1. Unfortunately the rule of supply and demand dictates the price we have to pay for gluten free food. However anyone with a keen eye for making some money on the back of someone elses condition would realise that there is a big profit margin to be made in this area. There may be an increase in demand for gluten free products but that is primarily driven by the increasing number of people being diagnosed. I might add that a lot of the expensive gluten free food being peddled is actually very bad for you because in order to make it more palatable manufacturers are doing what they always do and adding more salt, sugar and fat to these products. People who do not suffer from gluten intolarence are better off staying clear of gluten free food. Those that are gluten intolerant should stick as far as possible to preparing their food from basic ingredients. People these days are so easily lead by advertising etc that they have forgotten that these national and multinational companies are there to make money by artificially generating demand for products we don’t even need and selling them to us at inflated prices. As a society we are addicted to sugar, salt and fat and food manufactures are our suppliers.

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Radio News