We know that for some people, eating gluten free foods is a matter of making the healthier choice but for many it is out of necessity. Until there are proven treatments available to rid people of celiac disease, those who have been diagnosed must adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. But special dietary needs like this, often come at a price.

But why are gluten free products so expensive? It’s a question asked by many consumers today as the Freefrom market continues to evolve and develop and the range of products available grows. The processes, certifications, controls that must be in place all have an impact of the overall cost and pricing strategy for gluten free products, also the raw materials need to be sourced from suppliers with the same levels of control and process and that often means many layers of investigation.

Is there more to this price point than on first glance? In most cases there are many more factors to consider; there’s been significant R&D (Research & Development) invested in developing flavoursome, high quality products that give the consumers a great ‘eat’ and high taste experience without gluten.

Additional staffing, special equipment and these additional steps are just a few of the reasons gluten-free foods come with a higher price tag than other foods.

There is of course some scepticism about the higher costs associated with gluten free foods but often that is fuelled by a lack of awareness and understanding of what is really involved in creating a 100% certifies gluten free product. There are also some common misconceptions such as just because a product doesn’t naturally contain gluten, doesn’t mean it’s 100% gluten free.

Just because a product is deemed not to contain gluten, doesn’t necessarily make it 100% gluten free. Because of the risks of cross contamination and transference at any stage in the process (from the raw materials stage, through production to finished goods), gluten can easily transfer airborne (such as flours in the air in a factory) – which could affect the end product.

To be certified 100% gluten free in the UK there must be less than 20 parts per million (20ppm) of gluten in a product, there must be full controls and testing in place with records to support this – both at a manufacturers’ site and any raw materials provided.

Dedicated gluten free facilities help because they reduce the risk of cross contamination at the site (if you were making gluten free and non-gluten free bread on a same line for example, the risks would be much greater and the steps very stringent to avoid the risk of gluten being where it shouldn’t be). In that situation many facilities would perform a very deep clean over a weekend and the first production would be the gluten free, before moving to the standard lines.

Manufacturers can of course go further in terms of making certain guarantees about the safety of certain food products to consumers but adhering to the strict processes and controls are the key to mitigating the potential risks.

Better education is always needed for consumers, because the right awareness is normally there within the trade sectors but transparency and awareness across the consumer market is an ongoing process that needs constant monitoring and improvement.

By Sue Warren, Strategic Development Director at Wellaby’s (www.wellabys.com)