Coeliac suffers hard hit by high gluten-free prices

(Article originally from Stuff.co.nz - 14th August 2016)

People on a gluten-free diet sometimes have to fork out up to 500 per cent more for products that meet their dietary requirements.

Research completed for Coeliac New Zealand compared supermarket prices of standard food products and their gluten-free alternatives. It found everything from gluten-free pizza bases to Weetbix and white toast bread were more expensive than their standard counterparts, sometimes up to five times the price.

Mum-of-two Jaki George-Tunnicliffe was advised to cut out gluten to help ease her son's stomach pain.

I think the high prices for gluten-free food are offensive and opportunistic given the captive audience they cater to," she said.

Keeping to a gluten-free diet is hard enough as it is without having to pay top dollar for the privilege."

Coeliac New Zealand general manager Carl Sunderland said a similar survey had been done in 2010 and while the prices for some standard products, such as bread, had dropped over the six years, gluten-free prices had remained the same.

He said there was a perception that eating gluten-free was a fad diet of high-income earners but coeliac disease affected a wide spectrum of people, and the cost of food could become a problem.

"For some people it's a huge problem for a loaf of bread to cost three times the amount of a normal loaf. People are having to change their lifestyles and still want to eat the same things they've been eating for 30 or 40 years in some cases. It does put a strain on their shopping bill."

Countdown has recorded a 15 per cent increase in the sales of gluten-free products over the past year. "Whether the driver is an allergy, coeliac disease, an intolerance or simply a lifestyle choice, we know specialised foods and products are an important part of many peoples' lives," spokesman James Walker said.

Sunderland said it had been hoped that when more gluten-free products became available, the price would drop but that has not been the case.

"We do understand that products are more expensive to manufacture because of all the boxes they have to tick but some of them arte hugely more expensive," he said. With large manufacturers you would hope that their prices would come down to be more similar."

He said Weetbix's gluten-free option was more expensive but not as wildly dearer as some other products. Countdown this week was selling gluten-free Weetbix for $5.80 for a 375g pack. The regular version was $3.69.

Coeliac suffers can apply for a means-tested disability allowance. A child disability allowance is also available but Sunderland said parents of children with coeliac disease had varying levels of success in trying to claim it. There is also the possibility of getting some types of food on prescription.

Health and fitness consultant Leann Wann said people who had to avoid gluten could avoid the high prices by opting for unprocessed foods instead.

She said there were a lot of people "trying to make money" from people who were switching to a gluten-free diet and it was hard to get information about how to eat healthily.