Saturday, February 10, 2007

Inflation hitting my gluten-free baking budget

We were just out shopping at BJ's Wholesale Club today, which is where we purchase a substantial portion of the ingredients we do all of our gluten-free baking with. We frequent this store because, to date, we have found them to be the most reasonably priced nearby option for large quantities of ingredients we use most often. Large quantities are especially important when we are "experimenting" and creating or perfecting new recipes, since it may take a few iterations to get something just the way we want it.

Well, I have been noticing some serious price inflation hitting these ingredients over the past few months. And, the pace of inflation has been nothing short of speedy. In fact, prices moved upwards so fast and so often on eggs, that I had to look at my receipts from prior purchases to make sure I was not dreaming about my "ideal" price vs. actual. Here's what I have found, on the identical product recently.

Eggs: 2.5 dozen grade-A Large eggs per flat/carton. Just a few months ago, these were running $1.99. I found that to be a bargain. Then, just a month or two ago, I see they have gone up to $2.99 (that's fifty percent increase in case you were opening Windows calculator program). But, it does not end there. Only a week later, it was $3.15. Then, today, nothing short of a shocking $3.59! (yes, now we are at eighty percent increase over a few months for my eggs!).

I can probably find them cheaper elsewhere on sale, but for an apples-to-apples comparison, and for the same product at the same store, this pace of inflation just shocked me. I wrote a prior blog entry back in September of 2006 about how I was concerned that Ethanol production was going to hit my gluten-free baking. Well, that time has come!

If you see similar increases in the prices of eggs you bake with, or in other ingredients or foods, here's some of what is driving the cost:
  1. The price of corn has doubled in the past year! (this is due, primarily to demands for Ethanol production)
  2. Corn (feed) is one of the largest price-components in raising chickens - which tend to be required for creating the eggs :)
  3. Corn is used to feed other livestock as well - so don't be surprised if meat goes skyward in general too - this just furthers demand for the commodity.
  4. Energy costs are high - you need to keep greenhouses and livestock (in this case chickens) warm in the winter, and this gets expensive.
These price pressures are filtering their way down through all sorts of products. I sure hope it is a temporary "egg bubble" or something, but I honestly think it is something that may only get worse as the push to use corn for ethanol increases. And, other grains are not off limit either - in the past year, most commodities (be it soy, wheat, etc) have had huge price increases too because of energy prices and demand for anything to make ethanol with.

Sugar will soon follow, since sugar beets and cane are also used for ethanol production. Then my molasses will go up (and Sorghum flour too). The worst thing is, there will be no avoiding the cost - it's not like purchasing pre-packages gluten-free foods will avoid the increases, since all the manufacturers are facing the same raw material cost increases that I'm seeing too. My favorite Bi-Aglut pasta is made primarily from Corn, and it is already expensive - wonder what it'll cost by year's end?

I apologize if I went on a bit of a rant here in my blogging. I'm just a bit concerned about this trend on a few levels. Anything that threatens my gluten-free food prices is always troubling to me. Now, I guess I could convert my front-yard into a corn-field in the springtime, and put some chicken coops out back for egg production... but, even that would likely fail since my favorite neighborhood roaming raccoons would probably eat all the corn before I could harvest it. Arghh... there's no escaping it.


Lynn Barry said...

No apology necessary...when experimenting with recipes this inflation situation is a cruel reality, the cost of trying to make things better for you and for others who have to adapt in this gluten-infested world. It just plain stinks!
We love to shop at Sam's Club and imagine it will be the same, when we take a close look.
Take care, my friend.

Gluten Free MappyB said...

That has been a factor in my going off my GF diet - the costs of all these good foods compared to pre-packaged processed bad foods, it's so cheap, and hard to stay on a budget when these things are so expensive...

Mike Eberhart said...

Mappyb, I sure hope you don't stray to the gluten if you are a confirmed Celiac, since that is one sure way to give yourself all sorts of problems. I know what you are saying about the prices of eating good food, but the cost of eating gluten could in the long run be more if you have gluten enteropathy (i.e., Celiac) due to the medical complications. We bake most of the foods I eat from scratch because 1) it's cheaper 2) it tastes better. I hope you can find a way to stick with the gluten-free program if you need to.

Lynn, it'll be intersting to see how prices compare at Sam's. I don't have a membership there since it is a bit further away from where I live. But, I suspect the same forces will be at work on prices there too.

Gluten Free Momma said...

Mike, I really like your understanding of the underlying causes of price increases. I also am concerned about just how ubiquitous corn is becoming in the food chain. Have you read The Omnivores Dilemma? Michael Pollan does a wonderful job of following corn through our food chain.
BTW I wish good quality eggs cost 3.59 for 2.5 dozen. Around here in Bellingham WA, I pay $3 per dozen for free range. But since they are from a farm about 20 minutes away, I am ok with that.
Overall since my family went gluten free, we have only had about a 10% increase. I find that since I cook about 80% of our food, I can control it fairly easily.

Mike Eberhart said...

gm momma, I have not read "The Omnivores Dilemma"... sounds interesting, and I'll check our library for it. Corn certainly is tightly integrated throughout our entire food chain (and energy chain now too).

I'm glad your budget has only went up 10%, and I'm sure that is kept in check by baking so much on your own. Good job! You know, that makes me think of how uncommon it seems to be these days for people to "bake", whereas when I was a child, it's all I knew -- "everyone" (in my memories) baked everything from scratch. Seems like a lost-art these days, and I'm sure corporate America has helped us lose our way.

Gluten FreeVegan said...

Wow...I have not noticed an increase here (south florida) yet, and I shop at a big bulk store (Costco) because they have incredible produce (that has yet to increase in price)!

Not so sure Ethenol is to blame, possible the fact that they have not allowed farmers to take more land to produce corn just for that purpose and are taking it out of our "food chain" instead could be.

Anywhoo...buyer beware. I will be checking my prices when I go shopping next time.

Sheri said...

Mike, I feel your pain. Most of the flours and stuff I use I have to order either through the organic place I use or thru the Web. Even buying in bulk doesn't always help.

Mike Eberhart said...

If anyone wants a good read, check out this article about Corn prices and Ethanol production. On the second page of that article, you'll see how Corn has doubled in the past year. That's some serious inflation.

Alisa said...

Hi Mike, very interesting. You are the first special diet foodie that I have seen address the commodities issue. It is a common topic in our dairy-free (and now wheat-free) household. Both my husband and I have our commodities licenses, an exciting couple I know!

Yes, conservation and innovation are fantastic, but competing with our food supply is not always the best idea. I think the people on Capitol Hill may want to reevaluate where they are focusing their energy efforts.

Corn is a staple for feed, which means more demand for corn equals higher prices on processed foods and meat products. It is an inflationary spiral!

I can agree that sugar has also spiraled out of control due to this craze. Perhaps they will consider lifting the high tariffs we have on sugar imports to lift some of the upward pressure.

I keep hearing about the Omnivore's Dilemma, I may have to pick this up.

Thanks for the enlightening article!

Mike Eberhart said...

I'm glad you found the blog interesting. Sounds like you and I have some very similar thoughts on these matters. Thanks for adding to the discussion. Appreciated!