shopping

Which UK supermarket is the cheapest to shop for gluten free?

How expensive really is gluten free food compared to the gluten containing equivalents and which UK supermarket is the best and cheapest place to shop gluten free.

So, you might have heard of the Which? Supermarket price comparison where every month, they compare thousands of prices at eight of the UK’s biggest supermarkets - Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsburys, Tesco and Waitrose - in a bid to reveal the cheapest place to buy groceries and household essentials.

The way they work out the cheapest supermarket is by tracking the prices of up to 200 branded and own-label products every day over the course of a month to work out the average cost per item. They then add those averages up to get a trolley total for each retailer. The contents of the comparison study vary from month to month and can include anything from Andrex toilet paper and Lurpak butter to own-label bread and baked beans.

Now, I thought just how interesting it would be to do this supermarket comparison but to focus specifically on the price of gluten free products. Lots of the food in the Which? comparison is naturally gluten free so there’s no point copying the whole trolley contents and substituting some of the products for gluten free versions. However, rounding up a few essential or popular gluten free items from the free from section of supermarkets and comparing prices could make for an interesting read.

According to the Which? comparison, Aldi is the cheapest supermarket

My idea for this blog series is to take myself out on solo dates to supermarkets and fill one basket with set gluten free products and then fill another basket with the gluten containing equivalents. Not only will we clearly get to see the price difference between buying ‘normal’ items compared to their gluten free versions but we’ll also discover the cheapest supermarket to shop for gluten free. Who else is secretly hoping that their local supermarket is the one that comes up the best for value…come on Morrisons!

We all know by now (I hope!) that gluten free substitutes are far more expensive than their gluten containing counterparts but do we ever work out just how much more we’re spending shopping gluten free? According to research by Coeliac UK, the cheapest loaf of gluten free bread can be up to 7 times more expensive than a regular loaf and a gluten free diet can cost an extra 20% each year. 20%!

The cheapest loaf of gluten free bread can be up to 7 times more expensive than a regular loaf

For those with coeliac disease or a multitude of other medical conditions, eating gluten is simply not an option. We’ve come a long way from the days of having to buy gluten free staples over the counter at a chemist so being able to shop for gluten free products like bread, flour and pasta in your local supermarket is amazing. But with over 10% of the UK population now eating a gluten free diet and demand being higher than ever, is it fair that the cost of gluten free products are on average 3-4 times more expensive than standard gluten containing equivalents?

And for those about to pipe up with “If you’re complaining about the price that much then just don’t buy it”, come back to me once you’ve been told there’s no option but to cut out a large portion of food choices and tell me you don’t want to buy the more expensive safe substitutes.

Anyway, back to the plan. Once I’ve compared the price of gluten free vs gluten loaded products and discovered the cheapest place to shop GF, we’re going to make sure we keep monitoring these prices regularly. We’ll set up a dedicated page on the Glee website which will track the prices of the gluten free products across all of the supermarkets so we can spot whether the price is going up or down and how this compares to the general fluctuation of normal supermarket prices. We can also increase the number of items we're tracking and maybe include seasonal specials like a gluten free Christmas pudding when the time comes!

Now, I think we need to set out some ground rules to make this a fair game:

Brands are banned 🚫

I’m going to try and carry out this study by comparing only the supermarket’s ‘own-brand’ product ranges so that we can do a fair comparison between the non-branded gluten containing and gluten free products. I’m hoping that all of the supermarkets will have their own version of each item we’re comparing but in some instances we might have to use a brand if there’s no other option. The odd branded item will still be included in the comparison because at the end of the day, it represents what options the supermarket has to offer and what you’d end up spending shopping there; if there’s only branded GF flour, you’re going to end up buying that flour because it’s the only option.

Avoiding brands in this series also sets us up nicely to do a separate gluten free brand comparison in the future…

Size matters ⚖️

In an ideal world, for each gluten free product there will be a gluten containing product the exact same size and weight so that we can get a like-for-like comparison. However, we’ve all seen the size of gluten free bread (bread for the borrowers) so this might not be possible. To combat this, I’ll make sure to clock the ‘price per’ cost so we can at least get an average price as well as the actual price per product.

Shelf shopping only 🛒

As much as I’m a sucker for the gluten free frozen section in a supermarket, for this study, I’m only going to compare shelf stocked products as opposed to fresh fridge or freezer items. There’s not a whole lot of consistency with what gluten free options are provided by supermarkets in their fridge or freezer sections, so it’s tricky to compare and a lot of options are branded so we’ll leave it to the free from aisles to show us what they have.

The chosen ones 🫵🏼

Interestingly, Coeliac UK has been working with major supermarkets to increase the availability of gluten free food they stock to try and reduce the number of shops gluten free customers might need to visit to get the staple items they need. They’re calling it the Gluten Free Guarantee and it’s a commitment by supermarkets to have eight core items in stock across all of their stores including: white bread, rolls, brown/seeded bread, pasta, cereal, cereal bars, flour and crackers.

Initially, I was going to just copy this exact list of eight for my comparison but I found that the first few big supermarkets I checked only had branded options for the cereal bars and crackers so I’ve made some replacements. Based on gluten free shopping research, plus my own gluten free staple shopping list, I have decided to compare 9 (10 would be far too cliché) gluten free products with their gluten filled twin:

  1. Loaf of white/brown/seeded bread

  2. Pack of 4 white/brown/seeded bread rolls

  3. Pasta

  4. Spaghetti

  5. Porridge oats

  6. Box of cereal (either own brand Special K or Cornflakes)

  7. Plain flour

  8. Digestive biscuits

  9. Gravy granules

The gravy granules were a random one but ordinary Bisto and own branded gravy does include wheat flour so it’s clearly a demand for the gluten free gravy lovers - myself included!

The supermarkets 🏪

Although one of the top supermarkets included in the Which? comparison is Ocado, I’m going to switch it out for M&S so we can avoid comparing branded items and M&S do a great gluten free range I don’t want to ignore.

I’m going to keep Aldi and Lidl in the mix for now but I haven’t got high hopes for either of them showcasing their talent in this area. Despite them both being great supermarkets and usually the best value, their gluten free subs are next to none unless they have gluten free special buys which are super exciting but not reliable when you’re planning your weekly shop.

So with the rules set and my arm workouts in progress, I’m ready for my first double basket shop!

Keep an eye out for the upcoming first instalment of our basket comparison showdown where I’ll be taking a visit to the first supermarket and pricing up my baskets.

Who knows, maybe this gluten free basket comparison can really shed some light on the increased prices we have to pay shopping gluten free and whether it can really be justified by the gluten free premium. Yes, it’s still understandable that gluten free products are more expensive because of specialised ingredients, dedicated facilities and certification and testing, but explanations for the premium price include calling the gluten free demand a ‘niche market’. I don’t believe that gluten free can still be classed as niche.

Can you really say that around 8.5 million people in the UK is a niche market when it’s over 10% of the UK population? According to research, the population of those gluten free exceeds the amount of people with diabetes or asthma. It’s estimated that 5 million people in the UK have diabetes and around 8 million people have asthma but only 5.4% are receiving treatment for it. Gluten free has definitely gone beyond a niche.

Despite the higher prices, there is still a demand from individuals suffering with gluten related illnesses who have no choice but to pay a premium for these products in order to live a normal life. Are businesses capitalising on this knowing there is no other alternative or cure and reaping the financial benefits of upping the prices?

Make sure you follow us on social media to watch the basket series play out!

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