Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Store-bought vs. From Scratch: The Cost of Gluten-Free Baked Goods

In recent weeks I've taken a detailed look at how the United States and other countries have implemented various structures—ranging from tax deductions to stipends—to help offset the financial premium often paid for gluten-free foods, including a hypothetical example for the average American family.

As I've said several times, that premium is most prevalent with specialty foods, particularly gluten-free baked goods. And so this week I'm shifting gears only slightly and looking at the gluten-free premium question from a different angle: How does the cost of gluten-free baked goods differ if you buy store-bought versions versus making them yourself from scratch at home?

For a long time our intuition has told us it's cheaper to make food from scratch at home, but would that actually be true? It was time to run some numbers...

Analytical Methods

First I had to decide what foods to compare. Kelli and I sat down and came up with a potential list: sandwich bread, chocolate chip cookies, pizza crust, frozen waffles, bagels, pancakes, brownies, yellow cake, frozen pizza. Ultimately, I decided to focus the analysis on three common items you might frequently purchase as the store: sandwich bread, chocolate chip cookies, and pizza crust.

For store-bought versions of the foods, prices came primarily from the companies themselves (such as Pamela's, Udi's, etc.), which appeared consistent with the prices we've seen for those same products in NY and CO.

For the from scratch versions of the foods, I used the recipes from the 2nd edition of our cookbook Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, including our Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend.

Finally, in order to calculate the cost of ingredients for our recipes, I used a variety of sources. For staple ingredients such as milk, butter, and sugar, values came from nationwide consumer price index averages from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Other ingredient prices came from Walmart, ShopRite, Bob's Red Mill, and a handful of other sources.

Flour Blends

When I ran the numbers on our Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend, we found that it costs an average $2.27 per pound. With the exception of Bob's Red Mill's All-Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Flour, which came in at a very comparable $2.29 per pound, most all-purpose gluten-free flour blends were significantly more expensive. Looking at Pamela's Artisan Flour Blend, King Arthur's gluten-free blend, Better Batter, and Cup 4 Cup, per pound prices ranged from $4.13 to $6.67 per pound, roughly double to triple the cost of our from-scratch flour blend.

Bread, Cookies, and Pizza, Oh My!

The story was much the same when we switched gears from the flour blend to the actual foods.

To make a full-size loaf of our sandwich bread costs $3.32. By comparison, a loaf of gluten-free bread from the likes of Udi's or Rudi's typically costs $5 to $6.

To make a batch of our chocolate chip cookies, which yields 36+ average-size cookies, costs $6.39. By comparison, a box of a scant 9 Pamela's chocolate chunk cookies costs about $4, which means that to purchase a similar quantity of cookies as the yield of our from-scratch recipe would cost you roughly $16, about 150% more for the same quantity.

Finally, to make one of our 12-inch thin crust pizza crusts costs just $1.52. By comparison, a smaller 9-inch Udi's gluten-free pizza crust costs about $2.50. You're paying a dollar more (66% more than the base price of our recipe) to get a smaller pizza crust.


As with any analysis of prices based on averages, there is room for significant variability. Ingredients and store-bought gluten-free foods will cost different in different parts of the country. The quality of ingredients you buy will impact prices as well—Do you purchase high-end chocolate or store brand? Conventional eggs, or cage free, or free range, or pastured eggs?

Then there's the time cost of from-scratch cooking. For some people, the convenience of ready-to-eat store-bought gluten-free foods may be worth the higher price.

But if you're looking to reduce the amount you spend on gluten-free baked goods, the numbers are compelling: get into the kitchen and start baking from scratch!


P.S. If anyone's curious about the particulars of the numbers and calculations, I have a detailed Excel spreadsheet, but it's way too much data to include in this blog post.

Image courtesy lynnc /


Melissa said...

Why am I not surprised you did this detailed, financial analysis of the store-bought vs from-scratch cost of GF baked goods?! Were you up until all hours of the night crunching numbers? Just the thought of that makes me cringe.

Thanks for doing the heavy number lifting, Pete. Seems I remember you getting caught up in a similar numbers puzzle while focused on GF women triathletes and podium finishes. =)

You're not only a numbers nerd, you also write well. Good (and rare) combo!

Happy baking!

Janis said...

Thanks for this information. We recently became a gluten free household. Me being a "from scratch" cooker and baker I dove right into making my own. BUT I wondered if I was paying more to do it my way. Glad to see it pays off. Plus, it always tastes better when you make it yourself!!! :)

I really appreciate the info!

gfe--gluten free easily said...

Great post, Pete! Shared. :-)


Marilyn said...

Thanks for the info.
Now that you're back in Colorado, have you tried the Outside the Breadbox Vegan Oat bread at Natural Grocers? Great flavor & texture for a bread that's egg, dairy, nut, casein, gluten & soy free.

cmcole said...

as a numbers nerd, I'd not mind the spreadsheet.

We're not totally gluten free, but I've been experimenting, and too wondered at the cost (especially in my area, when many ingredients have to be obtained via mail order).

But the taste cannot compare, and the variety is definitely incomparable

ReInventing Lolli said...

I love making our gluten free foods ( like breads and pizza crusts and desserts) from scratch! We don't buy the premade. The homemade tastes better and is cheaper....and bonus healthier too!

Wonderful post!

Lolli S

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Molly said...

Looking at this post side by side with your other post about gluten-free versus standard pricing, it's nice to see that baking gluten-free from scratch also seems, at least in some cases, cheaper than purchasing ready-made gluten-containing baked goods.

Loaf of bread: Homemade GF $3.32. Store-bought non-GF $4.50

Pizza crust: Homemade GF $1.52. Store-bought non-GF $3.00

30-36 cookies: homemade GF $6.39. Chips Ahoy $3.50

There's a price difference with the cookies (unless I'm getting my numbers wrong), but the difference between a fresh-baked cookie and a store-bought Chips Ahoy is worth 10 cents a cookie, in my opinion!

Sophia said...

Thank you for another great post. I very much appreciate your doing the grunt work, crunching the numbers. It reminds me how much better home cooking is, despite the time costs. Plus the ability to customize and include more premium ingredients as you pointed out, home cooking only makes sense.

Rochelle @ said...

Thank you for this! It often irritates me when I hear people complaining that being gluten free is so expensive and there's no way around it. Making things from scratch (or simply not consuming the gluten free/expensive versions of things) is often not considered.

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