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The real reasons why Gluten Free Food costs more: Kirsty’s Highlights Challenges Faced by Free-From Food Manufacturers in Current Economic Climate

17/07/2023

RECENT reports have revealed that families with food allergies are disproportionately impacted by rising living costs. Gluten-Free food already can be 644% more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts so, the escalating costs are pushing individuals with allergies into food poverty. They’re also fostering a sense of mistrust towards manufacturers, who are often accused of profiteering from those in need of free-from options and with limited alternatives. Now, well-known free-from food company Kirsty’s has launched a new campaign to shed light on the increasing pressures small businesses in the food industry are currently facing. 

As families with food allergies continue to experience the burden of rising costs, Kirsty’s founder and Managing Director, Kirsty Henshaw, believes there is an urgent need for transparency and more openness around the genuine factors contributing to elevated expenses. By clearly outlining the source of cost increases, she hopes to foster trust and make it easier for those in need of free-from options to understand why their dietary essentials are now costing more.

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As a small company, Kirsty’s shares the struggles consumers face in the current economic climate. A parent herself, she understands the alarming costs of food shopping first-hand and seeks to raise awareness rather than seek sympathy: “My objective in sharing this information is not to gain sympathy but to help people understand where these genuine costs are coming from.”

Over the past year, rising electricity prices, fuel costs, and wage demands have posed significant challenges for food manufacturers. Kirsty explains, “All the things that are affecting consumers at home, are affecting us too as a business. Only this week, one of our lorry hauliers imposed another 15% price increase.” In addition to these usual manufacturing costs, Kirsty’s faces additional expenses in ensuring their meals are free-from, which have also seen an upward trend.

Kirsty categorises these costs into four key areas:

1. Restricted Sourcing: To guarantee allergen-free ingredients, Kirsty’s must carefully source from suppliers who can ensure no cross-contamination. For instance, lentils can only be procured from suppliers in Canada or France, resulting in increased vulnerability to rising fuel prices compared to sourcing locally in the UK.

2. Processing Controls: Ensuring the absence of allergens necessitates thorough cleaning procedures and testing. For example, gluten-free Worcestershire sauce requires extensive clean-downs as it is produced in the same factory as the gluten-containing variety. Similar precautions are taken for ingredients such as chopped vegetables (celery risk), spices (mustard seed risk), and red kidney beans (soya-containing edamame bean risk). These additional processes incur higher costs due to increased electricity, water, and labour requirements.

3. Testing: Raw materials and finished meals undergo rigorous testing to guarantee free-from status. Each test incurs approximately £200 in expenses, which, combined with rising transportation costs and labour, contributes to increased testing costs.

4. Lower Volumes, Higher Costs: As a small company, Kirsty’s collaborates with suppliers who prioritise ingredient quality and allergen requirements. However, this means they cannot benefit from the economies of scale enjoyed by larger corporations, making it challenging to strike a balance between lower volumes and higher costs.

Navigating the current climate proves particularly difficult for free-from food manufacturers, as they face unique obstacles in maintaining quality while managing costs. Kirsty reveals that some competitors have reintroduced allergens in certain products to alleviate expenses or enhance taste appeal. However, Kirsty remains steadfast in her commitment to providing healthy, accessible free-from food options for everyone, driven by her personal experience when her son was diagnosed with food allergies.

“I still remember when my son got diagnosed with food allergies as a baby,” reflects Kirsty. “The feeling of hopelessness when I stood in the supermarket feeling like there was nothing I could buy for him. Reflecting on that feeling keeps me doing what I’m doing despite the challenges.”

Kirsty’s remains dedicated to transparency and delivering high-quality free-from products despite the complexities faced by the industry. To find out more, visit: www.kirstys.co.uk

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