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Gluten-free foods are too expensive, say coeliac shoppers

Nearly 90% of UK shoppers with coeliac disease say that gluten-free foods do not represent good value for money, according to a survey from Leatherhead Food Research.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder with symptoms triggered by gluten, the protein in wheat, rye, barley and spelt, and the only known treatment is complete avoidance of gluten.

Alex Willey, team leader consumer operations at Leatherhead, led a survey in September among 310 people with coeliac disease, which examined their shopping habits, liking of current gluten-free products, and possible future improvements. He told FoodNavigator that the researchers had been surprised at the prevalence of price concerns among coeliac patients.

“We went into this survey anticipating from anecdotal information that consumers were going to complain about the sensory aspects,” he said – but price emerged as a far bigger issue than any sensory problems.

Price was coeliacs’ top problem with gluten-free foods, with 51% saying they ‘strongly disagreed’ that gluten-free foods were good value for money, and a further 38% saying they ‘slightly’ disagreed. Willey said that in terms of price difference, typical free-from bread might cost 50p per 100 grams, while ordinary bread might cost about 17p per 100 grams.

When asked about potential improvements to gluten-free products, ‘shopping related’ aspects came out top, including value for money, which was cited by 84% of respondents; range of products (76%); and availability (70%) leading consumers’ wish lists.

Texture, taste and healthier ingredients

However, sensory issues were still significant, and most respondents said they expected ‘standard’ foods to be better than their gluten-free counterparts from a sensory perspective. Nearly half of those surveyed (48%) said they would like to see improved texture in gluten-free products; 46% mentioned flavour; and 42% said they would like healthier ingredients.

“Clearly there may be opportunities for those who manufacture these products,” said Willey.

In terms of product type, baked goods – and particularly bread – were most in need of improvement, according to the survey’s participants.

“We were very much expecting there to be issues around the sensory quality and we were unsurprised that bread was the biggest item to improve,” he said. “It was by far and away the category that needed improvement. It was right across the board, to do with taste and texture, through to choice and perception of freshness.”

Bakery was followed by snacks, breakfast cereals and frozen foods as the top categories in need of innovation, according to the survey.

8 comments (Comments are now closed)

Being ripped off

I lived in Brazil. They have no wheat fields. Bread is still made and it is cheap. So why is a third world country able to produce this bread in bulk and the US can't without make it without someone having to sell a kidney to buy?

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Posted by Rebecca
07 May 2014 | 13h17

An opportunity for a shift in the diet and nutrition

As with previous popular diets, the attention being given to gluten-free diets is an opportunity to make a small shift in the overall food supply. I recently read that wheat makes up 20% of the North American diet, the largest single commodity. The FAO has flagged simplification of the diet and loss of biodiversity in crops as a major issue. We have an opportunity at this point in time to introduce other cereals and pseudo-cereals to an interested audience.
Traditional gluten-free white bread made from purified starches has low nutritional value and poor texture. There are so many healthier options, with more fibre, B vitamins, protein and other nutrients. Oat, sorghum, millet, buckwheat, teff, quinoa, amaranth, chickpea, bean and pea flours have great potential for gluten-free foods and would give consumers the improved nutritional benefits they are looking for.

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Posted by Susan
27 February 2014 | 17h10

Response to Phil Roberts

My point was that we really don't need to eat grains, period. Try quinoa or rice if you must. I eat no wheat although I don't have celiac disease, but there are plenty of whole food options where grains are not necessary. Cooking whole foods is cheaper than buying ready-to-eat processed foods.

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Posted by Lori
26 February 2014 | 16h24

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