The Blue Fairy's Breast Cancer Blog

Hey, shopper! Leave my food alone!

I am getting more and more tired of going shopping only to find that the Free From shelves are bare and that it’s usually the basics that are out of stock. It is becoming more and more annoying, particularly where food staples are concerned like bread and other baked goods. Yes, I can get some of it on prescription but there are days when I fancy something a little different like crumpets or ciabatta rolls for example. Or maybe it’s cake or biscuits that I’d fancy for a treat, whatever it was, the shelves are often frustratingly empty!

Initially I thought it was because I live in North Devon and therefore more than the average distance from a supermarket’s distribution centre. However discussions on a couple of coeliac forums showed me that this is by no means a problem local to me. Some of the problem is definitely down to supermarkets not managing their stock levels efficiently or effectively but it’s not as simple as that. I appreciate that food only has a limited lifespan but that’s a bit of a cop out when you realise that a large proportion of free from products are actually ‘long-life’ rather than ‘fresh.’ Surely it’s not that hard to order in a few extras on some lines if they are regularly selling out, especially when it equals more money at the checkout? I really think that even those supermarkets carrying a really good range of GF products are not actually that good at managing stock rotation or analyzing sales. Ridiculous really when there is a lot of money to be made in the supply of niche products!

There is another issue at play here though and one that I believe is the driving force behind the ever-more-frequently empty shelves and that’s the slow but steady rise of the consumer who chooses to eat a low-wheat or gluten free diet. These are people who either believe or actually have an intolerance to gluten or wheat and decide to exclude it from their diet. Then there are those who believe that a diet that is either low wheat or gluten free is a generally healthier diet to follow. A large majority of both types of consumer are making these choices based on life-style options and not because their doctor has advised them to exclude gluten from their diet. I know plenty of people will say that it’s their choice to do that and that they feel better for doing so and I am not arguing against that per se but the problem from my perspective is that I actually need those products whereas they don’t!

Whilst it’s great that supermarkets are now beginning to stock a much wider range of GF foods, the majority of them do not seem to have picked up on the issue of increased demand due to so many non-coeliac customers buying products in their free from ranges. This leaves me and my fellow coeliacs facing empty shelves and often having to go without quite basic food items that everyone else takes for granted. Yes, I guess I could hop in the car and drive to another supermarket but why should I? Also, we are not just talking about a single chain of supermarkets, it’s pretty much all the major players, so I’m just as likely to face empty shelves in another as I am in my preferred supermarket.

I was recently accused of being a bit self-oriented when I had a moan about this but the thing is this – I absolutely have no other choices available to me. Eating gluten will make me ill because it damages my small intestine. I can’t grab an ordinary loaf off the shelf if a GF one is not available and it’s so frustrating to go home with only half my basics purchased.

I think that it’s time that the big supermarkets woke up to this issue and sorted out their supply chain. The demand for GF food is going to continue to rise and there is a real danger that those of us who genuinely need it are going to lose out because the supermarkets are simply not stocking enough to keep up with demand. A tiny part of me also hopes that a bigger uptake in the sale of GF foods generally might result in a reduction of the often eye-wateringly steep prices of many items, as this  trend should result in more of a product being manufactured to meet the extra demand. I am however a realist, supermarkets are unlikely to reduce prices simply because they are making and selling more of a niche market product or at least not any time soon!

A plea to the non-coeliac GF food shopper. . .

Please, the next time you fancy a GF alternative when you go shopping, think first. If there are only a few left on the shelf please remember that people with Coeliac Disease have a genuine need for those items and if you aren’t Coeliac then you don’t.  Imagine what it would be like to go shopping and realise that a large proportion of your everyday food staples were unavailable and there were no other options available. As a result you face a very limited diet until your next shop and even then you may face just as many empty shelves. Not a nice thought is it? It is however a prospect that more and more Coeliacs are facing due to the rise in popularity of the foods they depend on and with a continuing rise in demand for GF products this is not likely to get any better in the short term.

What else can I say, except perhaps “food for thought.” 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

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