A question that we get asked very regularly. And the answer is, well…… yes it does, but….
There are very good reasons why ‘freefrom’ food should cost more than normal:
Freefrom foods use a number ingredients which may be relatively hard to find and expensive to buy – alternative flours (cassava, quinoa, millet, teff, rice, gram, nut flours etc), alternative ‘milk’ products (nut milks, hemp, coconut etc).
These may not only cost more but may take time to source and may only be available in relatively small and therefore uneconomic quantities.
2. Difficulty of manufacture.
Baking without gluten or eggs, creating ‘creamy’ textures without dairy products etc is not easy. There is often a good deal more time and expertise needed to develop successful products than would be needed for a standard gluten or dairy-based product.
3. Allergen exclusion and testing.
Although a well run factory should have procedures in place which would exclude allergen contamination, manufacturers need to institute extra cleaning procedures and extra testing to ensure that contamination remains below permitted levels (where they exist…). These cost.
If the manufacturer is serious about going freefrom they may also decide to build a dedicated facility – a major investment.
And, if they are serious about going freefrom they will also need to ensure that their suppliers can provide proof that the products they supply are also free of the allergen concerned – another extra administrative task.
4. Economies of scale.
Because freefrom manufacturers are, as yet, making for a relatively small market, there are few economies of scale available to them in terms of purchasing, manufacture, marketing or distribution.
5. Marketing and distribution
Because ‘freefrom’ is not yet a mature market, there is more effort (and therefore cost) involved in marketing it to customers who are not sure what it is or why they should want it.
As the freefrom market grows, as it is certainly doing (at around 15% year on year), freefrom ingredients should get easier and cheaper to source, manufacturing freefrom should become better understood and, in the fullness of time, some economies of scale should creep in.
Meanwhile, it seems realistic to expect that freefrom food will remain more expensive than non-freefrom – especially if you are used to budget shopping in the supermarkets. But ‘more expensive’ in my book, is 10% to a maximum of 30% more expensive, not twice or three times the price.
To be fair, most manufacturers and retailers of freefrom food are anxious to keep the cost down and the majority do not add more of a premium than they have to to cover their costs. But that is not to say that the odd one may not try to ‘cash in’ by upping that premium to 50 or even 100%. But as the general cost of freefrom drops they will, hopefully, find themselves being squeezed out of business.