If A Store Can Sell A Thousand Loaves, Then Why Can’t I Buy You?

Lower right: Oroweat Potato Bread
Lower left: Udi's 24-oz Whole Grain Bread
Top: Udi's 12-oz Whole Grain Bread
As someone who recently found out that his allergy to wheat was a definite thing (and compounded by about two dozen other allergies to various plants, molds, and foods), the most positive aspect was that, with these discoveries, I wouldn’t have to change my diet one iota. I have never needed to actually avoid gluten (my difficulties are entirely in the esophageal area), but I have found that living gluten-free was the best path to follow in order to more easily dodge both wheat and rye. As a bonus, since I don’t eat either cod or shellfish (the other allergy-inducing comestibles on my list) in the first place, a steady course full-steam ahead using the current diet is a go.

However, I still have to do battle with the greed of one half of the marketplace in presenting gluten-free options at fairly exorbitant prices to a captive audience, and the reticence of the other half of the marketplace to even present gluten-free options AT ALL. For the moment, let’s discuss the greedy half. And let’s also discuss bread.

Bread is the staff of life… blah, blah, blah. I didn’t really believe this until I had it pretty much wrested from my grip due to the allergies. Then I missed it a lot. But, then I discovered gluten-free bread… and I missed real bread all the more. Do you think I am kidding? I would vote a straight Republican ticket (is there any other kind... at least openly?) without hesitation or a single care if I were to be promised that I could eat warm brie and ham on a real, freshly baked French baguette again without a single negative consequence to my health. So, yeah… I really freakin' miss the good stuff.

Then I found Udi’s. After trying about a couple of dozen or more brands of bug taint flour this and millet fungus that, and trying to find something that equated the taste AND texture of real goddamned bread, I finally figured out that Udi’s — whether whole grain or white — was the closest I could find. Sure, you needed to heat up or even lightly toast the bread to get the closest approximation to the sponginess of “bread bread,” but it is worth it. Also, if you don’t heat or toast, the bread tends to crumble after it hits room temp, especially if you are buttering it or making a sandwich. But the taste is just fine, and after trying far more bland and even outright horrid brands (and to be fair, I did find a couple of other brands, such as Rudi’s — not sure if there is a relationship with Udi’s or if one copied the other — that I also didn’t mind), to finally find one that I could trust to be consistently OK was a huge relief.

But, even with finding a gluten-free bread that I mostly enjoy, there was one area in which ALL of the GF brands came up short, and that is, well… being short. Gluten-free breads, mostly due to the difficulties in baking larger loaves thanks to the lack of stretchy, expansive glutens, tend to look like they smoked cigarettes as kids and had their growth stunted. It has become routinely depressing to leave the grocery store with two loaves of bread in the bag: a normal loaf for Jen that was the usual size and shape of a loaf of bread, and a GF one for me that was about 2/3 the width and length of the other, but often cost twice as much as the normal one. GF bread tends more to relative squareness as well, and when Jen and I make grilled cheese sandwiches at home, I usually end up using four pieces of my bread to her two, creating two tiny sandwiches to get close to the normal size.

In 2014, I went to Idaho. Specifically, I went to Costco in Idaho with my wicked (and wonderful) stepmother Jo Ann, and found a 30 oz. loaf of Udi’s Whole Grain bread. Twice the length of a regular Udi’s loaf, weighing 1-1/2 times the normal weight, and — best of all — WIDE. Wide as an average slice of absolutely pedestrian bread… and I was so happy to find it. (Who knew that, for once in my life, normalcy would be looked at by me as a blessing?) Luckily, Jo Ann purchased two loaves, and I was able to bring most of the bread home with me to So Cal and be content on the baked goods front for a short while. It was astounding to eat sandwiches that looked like the size of a real sandwich again. I couldn’t believe my luck, and I figured that if a Costco in Idaho had these loaves, then surely a Costco in Southern California — home of the ultra-picky, modern diet whores — would cater to a growing gluten-free public.

And the answer was NO. After researching our local Costco (where we once had a membership), they not only lacked Udi’s in stock, but also didn’t carry any GF breads at all in their bakery area stocked with about thirty-plus brands (not counting their fresh varieties). We also discovered that of the GF brands, Udi’s and Rudi’s were ubiquitous, appearing the most in stores throughout Orange County. But while the bulk of those stores each carried the normal, tiny, square Udi’s loaf in the twelve-ounce size, not a single one offered a hint of the larger, thirty-ounce version. A visit to the Udi’s website, which features an online store promoting their full line of products, showed no trace of a bigger, 30-oz. loaf. 

I gave up. I was tired of running around trying to locate a decent sized loaf of bread. It was back to the itty bitty bread for me. 

When we moved from Orange County to Riverside County recently, we did get a new Costco membership, and one of the hopes would be that we would find the larger Udi’s loaves out here. Not so far. Both of the stores nearest us continue to have a serious lack of GF bread choices, though one of the boxers at the counter was kind enough (without our even asking) to go onto their computer system to check their inventory just in case we missed seeing any. We hadn’t, but she seemed, or at least acted, shocked to find Costco was almost entirely GF-deficient.

Then, just three weeks ago, on a random trip to the Target just down the street, I decided to check their tiny GF frozen section, even though I didn’t need bread. There on the top shelf, above the regular 12-oz. loaves were much bigger Udi’s loaves! They were only 24 ounces, not thirty, but it was the same width bread as that from Idaho. I was astounded! Best of all… a sign: CLEARANCE SALE. This had me confused, because I was at this very Target just a week before, and there were no 24-ounce loaves of Udi’s bread. How can it be a clearance item so quick? The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t matter. Stores do this all the time to push pricing and sales or even introduce items. It just sounds like they are getting rid of something, but I have seen furniture stores have clearance sales non-stop for years (and even going out of business sales). The main thing is that the price of a 24-ounce loaf was $5.99, not much more than a 12-oz. loaf ($5.29). I grabbed a loaf of white and a loaf of whole grain and made off like a bandit.

Cut to today. I was down to just a few pieces of bread in the second loaf, and I had been wondering if Target was still carrying the much larger loaf. Naturally, I was concerned because it is the only place in Southern California that I have seen it. If they still carried it, I wanted to make sure to buy more so that they knew there is an audience for the brand here, even if it is just one guy. My mother-in-law, Sande, announced she wanted to go to Target today, and I jumped at the chance to go with her. When we finally hit the frozen GF section, I saw the 24-ounce bags of bread and grabbed one of each style in a snap. [And now, for the slow twisting of the knife…]

I discovered to my horror that the clearance sale was no more, and that the regular price for a 24-ounce loaf of Udi’s Gluten Free Bread was $14.99. That is correct: $14.99! Mother pus buckets! That works out to just under a dollar per slice of bread. And in comparing it to the 12-oz. bag, yes, the 24-oz. is twice as big, but the price is almost triple the price of the regular loaf (once again, $5.29 a bag).

As much as I wanted that bread in my life, I couldn’t justify it this time, especially given that I am out of work right now and that Jen’s mom was buying the groceries. It would have been entirely too frivolous of me, and besides, I didn’t want Target to win this one. I did not want to give in to this impulse. And I really did not want to fall victim to such obvious price gouging. I guess it would have balanced out given that we had gotten an excellent deal on it the last time around, but that is a most dangerous way to go shopping. But mostly, I was just pissed that yet another thing in my world had just come crashing down. Believe it or not, my general happiness three weeks ago was balanced on finding the right bread at the exact right time, and now even that has been shattered for me. Discovering larger slices of gluten free toast has apparently been propping me up over the last couple of very rough years, and now, losing confidence in this obsession has made me just a little bit grimmer. 

And once you finally discover that bread really is the staff of life, in more ways than one, then you have learned everything this world can possible teach you.


Anonymous said…
So sorry to hear your costco doesnt carry the large Udis loaf. Ourdoes but I find the taste and texture off from the regular Udis loaf. If you can find it try Franz gf bread. It behaves more like real bread when room temp. It also is a bit larger than Udis. Last, try Amazon for gf items. I have found better prices there. Rumor has it Target will price match anything on Amazon.--Kary
Rik Tod Johnson said…
The problem is that multiple Costco stores down here don't carry GF breads. I don't find a difference in taste and texture, but it is possible that Udi's is having the bread baked and packaged at local bakeries, and thus there are possible differences in those areas.

I have not found Franz GF bread yet, and their closest bakery is in Eureka, a good way from here. However, my dad and stepmom live outside of Boise, and it appears there are a few Franz bakeries in their stomping grounds. Maybe I will ask them to pay a visit and grab a couple of loaves for testing. http://franzbakery.com/franzbakery-locations/california-idaho-bakery-outlet-locations/

As a side note, Trader Joe's recently began carrying their own brand (though it is likely it is a repackaged version of another GF brand, as TJ's often does). I find the bread nicely chewy, and have even made sammies without heating or toasting the bread to keep it intact.

Of course, the bread is still small and rather squarish. Which is what this post was centered around: tiny bread vs. wide bread.

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