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By Mary Frances Pickett

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Why Do Gluten Free Products Cost So Much?

February 27, 2013

Have you wondered why gluten free products are so expensive? Read today’s guest post from Chris Bekermeier at PacMoore, a certified gluten free food manufacturer, to find out why.

Gluten-free is the latest buzz in nutrition circles. The rise of celiac disease has moved the gluten-free concept into the mainstream marketplace, filling retail shelves with all manner of gluten-free foods, including cookies and bread. This is because patients with celiac disease must avoid gluten, the protein composite that gives traditional dough its elasticity and helps maintain the shape of a manufactured product. Present in foods processed from grains such as wheat, gluten causes serious health complications for celiac patients, including stomach distress, osteoporosis, anemia, other autoimmune diseases, and lymphoma.

Creating gluten-free products is an involved process, one that requires certain steps. Below is a look at what goes into gluten-free manufacturing.

Obtaining Gluten-Free Certification

Regulations delineating what is gluten-free have been introduced in recent years; the manufacturer must follow these regulations for a product to carry a gluten free label. Some companies go even further and have their products certified to be gluten free.

Different independent organizations have different standards that manufacturers must meet to receive gluten-free certification. These are explained below.

Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO): GFCO is a certification program for the Gluten Intolerance Group® (GIG) that has been in place for several years. For a product to be labeled gluten-free, the level of gluten must be less than 10ppm, determined by third-party testing.

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness Gluten-Free Certification Program (NFCA): Products are certified gluten-free, according to NFCA, at 10ppm; however, all the raw ingredients in the product need to be tested and can be used only when their levels are less than 20ppm. A third-party check is required to ensure the regulations are followed.

Celiac Sprue Association Seal of Recognition (CSA): To receive certification from CSA, the gluten level in the product must be below 5ppm. In addition, products may not contain oats, as some people who react even if the oats have been certified gluten-free. This certification also does not allow the use of any ingredient that has gluten, even if the final product satisfies the 5ppm specification. Auditing and testing by a third party are required.

Gluten-Free Standards Organization (GFSA): If a manufactured product undergoes higher testing and the gluten level is less than 20ppm, then the manufacturer may display a special logo on the product. Full certification from GFSA, however, requires products to have gluten levels less than 3ppm.

The International Certification Services (ICS): Certified Gluten-Free Standards help consumers make informed choices about foods to avoid because of gluten.  Compliance with this standard involves a combination of analysis of the products and ingredients used in manufacturing and management practices that prevent introduction of gluten to the foods at any point in the manufacturing process. All products certified under this standard can be from one ingredient or a formula involving several ingredients.

Avoiding Gluten Cross-Contamination

In today’s marketplace, the cost of gluten-free products is high compared to standard products. Studies have shown that gluten-free foods, on average, cost 242% more than standard foods.

However, there is a rationale behind these costs: At every stage of manufacturing and bringing a product to market, cross-contamination with gluten is possible, and protecting against that cross-contamination requires extra work. To ensure that products remain gluten-free at all times, manufacturers need procedures in place to address this risk.

Additionally, a paper trail is necessary so that companies can notify customers and suppliers whenever a problem arises.

Some of the steps involved in avoiding cross-contamination of even naturally gluten-free foods include:

  1. Manufacturing in a dedicated gluten-free facility
  2. Utilizing specialized equipment
  3. Creating written documentation on product specification and analysis
  4. Creating written document on processing conditions and certifications
  5. Testing every batch produced for gluten and allergens
  6. Obtaining third-party written certification to verify products as gluten-free

Why Gluten Free Products Are More Expensive To Produce

Here are some of the factors that increase costs in gluten-free manufacturing:

  1. thorough and regular cleaning of factories, which increases production costs;
  2. less competition due to a limited number of manufacturers that meet production standards;
  3. expensive ingredients like guar gum and xanthan gum; and
  4. a limited supply of gluten-free products, available only in stores with higher margins.

Going forward, the price of gluten-free foods will remain high until more people are diagnosed with celiac disease or prefer to purchase gluten-free foods for other reasons. In other words, the price will be high until critical mass in the retail and manufacturing segments is reached.

About the author:
Chris Bekermeier is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, for PacMoore, headquartered in Hammond, Indiana. PacMoore is one of the leading certified gluten-free food manufacturers focused on processing dry ingredients for the food and pharmaceutical industries. Its capabilities include blending, spray drying, re-packaging, sifting, and consumer packaging.

 

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