A photo of a loaf of 375g gluten-free bread at Woolworths, selling for R52.99, went viral on social media to the amusement of some while others questioned how a staple food item could be so expensive.
A loaf of brown bread, almost double the size, also at Woolies, costs R13.99.
A quick scan of the food aisles at the retailer reveals that specialised or health items in the 'carb clever' range usually cost around double - sometimes more - the price of 'ordinary' products. The same applies to speciality milks like almond, rice or soya milk.
Julian Novak, the Head of Fresh Food at Woolworths, told Fin24 that the raw materials and allergen control process required to make gluten-free bread add to the cost of the item.
"We have sold gluten-free bread since 2003, with an updated range of fresh gluten-free bakery products launched in March 2014, offering more diverse products including bread, rolls, muffins, and cookies," Novak said.
Six gluten-free chocolate biscuits at the upmarket retailer cost R54.99, while eight-gluten free crackers are sold for R39.99.
Checkers offers a Banting Revolution range and Pick n Pay sells several lactose and sugar-free products, but Woolies appears to be the place for picky eaters and those on restrictive diets, with several ranges catering to a wide variety of requirements.
"Where possible, we will provide choice within our ranges for customers who wish to avoid particular ingredients, such as specific gluten-free products, milk alternatives, etc.,” Novak said.
Gluten-free has in recent years become a buzzword at restaurants, groceries and health food shops. It is a family of proteins contained in wheat, rye and barley – and can be difficult to digest for some people. Intolerance to gluten describes sensitivity to the protein in the digestive system. The severity of the symptoms, which include the possibility of bloating, headaches and abdominal pain and discomfort, vary from person to person.
Gluten-free alternatives rely on flours made from maize, millet, rice, buckwheat or almonds as substitutes.
It's not only specialist items that have come with a hefty price tag - 18 extra-large free range eggs will cost you R79.99 at Woolworths, or just under R4.50 for an egg.
Egg prices soared at the end of 2017 due to the outbreak of Avian flu. Woolworths said that while they try to keep increases to an "absolute minimum", there are circumstances outside of the retailer’s control which have an impact on price adjustments.
"The factors are related to the depreciating currency, escalating fuel and electricity prices and other supply chain influences," said Novak.
Despite facing criticism at times on social media over price tags, Woolies food continues to be the star performer in the group. In a trading update in July for the 52 weeks to June 24, the retailer said that food sales increased on a like-for-like basis by 4.8%, while prices rose 3.2%.
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