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Why white bread is cheaper than brown?

The white bread is made from refined flour. The brown bread is made from whole grain (usually). The process to get refined flour is more complicated than whole-grain-wheat since several levels of millings are used.
So, why the brown bread is more expensive?
The only reason I can think of is that the whole-grain-flour is not rising as well as refined one because it has bran and other stuff. Is this the only reason?

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  1. Sometimes less demand leads to higher prices. Not that I understand that at all. Actually, one would think the opposite would be true. So I am as mystified as you about how manufacturers set prices. They don't seem to follow a practical, common sense approach when determining prices.

    1 Reply
    1. re: i_am_Lois

      the market is their common sense. production runs are likely larger for white breads, reducing unit costs.

    2. For the same reason plain yogurt is more expensive than flavored. In other words, no idea.

      1. People who want whole grains are willing to pay more for it.

        2 Replies
        1. re: chowser

          And most whole wheat breads don't have much whole grains in there.

          1. re: chowser

            People who want whole grains are willing to be lied to about it.

            if you want whole grain wheat, buy graham flour.

          2. I wonder if shelf life is an issue? Whole wheat flour goes rancid much faster than refined flour, so maybe whole wheat bread has a shorter shelf life?

            1 Reply
            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

              Rancidification of flour is on the order of months.
              Staling of bread is on the order of days.

            2. <conspiracy theorist> after they bleach all the flour for the nothing bread, then they have to re-dye it for the 'whole wheat' type </wack-job>

              I was sort of serious, but truly? it's all about perceived value. you can charge more if folks think the quality is greater. on a wild tangent, it's why a piece of furniture isn't stained black with aniline dye, no, it's "ebonized". same idea.

              3 Replies
              1. re: hill food

                Yes indeed. if you want actual whole wheat bread, make it yourself out of graham flour.

                What is labeled "whole wheat" is really "high fiber" (aka the expensive germ is used for other products, because American consumers are stupid).

                1. re: Chowrin

                  aren't you an american consumer?

                  1. re: alkapal

                    Not of the ilk that buys "whole wheat" labeled bread and tells myself it's actually whole wheat.

                    Gluten-free half the time isn't either, ya know?

              2. Carbohydrate affirmative action.

                1. Hill food and a few other posters got it correct. It is a matter of perceived value. The whole wheat bread market also is a bit unique. The number of people who actually will buy whole wheat bread vs white bread is small -- it is a small population. Yet, the people who do want whole wheat tends to have higher income and have a strong preference.

                  This creates what we economists calls "Inelastic commodity", and can often drive the price much higher than the real cost.

                  I will give you a very extreme case. Cancer drugs. Not many people need cancer drugs, but the ones who need them really need them. It is a very inelastic commodity.

                  You may also ask the question about brown rice vs white rice too. Brown rice often costs more than white rice (here, $24 brown rice vs $22 white rice)



                  That being, what I noticed is that the whole wheat bread is only marginally more expensive than white bread -- just like that brown rice is only slightly more expensive than white rice.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    It's why you don't see salads on the dollar menu or coke costs less than water.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      it is not perceived value of whole grain bread that makes it pricier than white (though that may play some role), but lower unit costs for the popular white bread that make white bread cheaper. as someone put it, economies of scale.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Perhaps a more interesting example is the comparison of the price of branded versus generic drugs. When a generic enters, intuition suggests it would drive down the price for the brand, as the two compete. but in fact a good deal of empirical research suggests that is not true. The brand price actually goes up. Why? because the market has been split between the price-sensitive consumers and those who are not price sensitive, and really want the branded drug. So, rather than try to compete on price and higher volume, branded drug manufacturers instead accept lower volume, but make up for it through higher margins which non-price sensitive customers will be willing to pay. ("third degree price discrimination" being the term of art.)

                        I think this also helps explain wine pricing (though I have not seen a study of this). I noticed non-negligible jumps in price for moderate-quality wines right around the same time that suppliers started dumping cheap wine on the market a la "two-buck Chuck." Super cheap wine was always available before, but usually in jugs and not really marketed as an alternative to better wine.

                        1. re: MagicMarkR

                          <So, rather than try to compete on price and higher volume, branded drug manufacturers instead accept lower volume, but make up for it through higher margins which non-price sensitive customers will be willing to pay.>

                          Excellent point indeed. Basically, there is a group of consumers who do NOT view generic drugs to be the same as branded drug.

                          Thanks for sharing.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Costco brand generics tend to be cleaner than a lot of branded drugs. Ask a person with allergies, a lot of drugs are really, really contaminated.

                      2. I live in Nor Cal. Within the same brand, Orowheat, all breads are priced the same.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Alan408

                          Same here- same brand, same price for presliced sandwich breads.
                          However, the bakery section breads baked in house are significantly cheaper for the white bread vs the "whole grain" that mysteriously only has 1g fiber per serving and a sprinkle of oats on the top is $3 more....
                          American capitalism at its finest...

                        2. It's just economies of scale. I'd guess a lot more white bread gets sold than whole grain bread, and it's always cheaper per unit if you're producing a lot of anything.

                          When I was a kid I didn't understand why soda was cheaper than juice, because you have to manufacture soda whereas with juice you just squeeze a fruit. The answer is that soda production benefits from massive economies of scale at all levels. If we subsidized orchards the same way we do corn syrup production, the prices would flip flop.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: RealMenJulienne

                            we subsidize corn syrup production?

                            growing up in florida, for the longest time i wondered if pink house paint was cheaper, because i could not imagine anyone wanting to paint their house that color.

                          2. Why are nickels bigger than dimes?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Steve

                              I really wondered that for a long time -- not kidding. Now, I gave up.

                              1. I think all factors mentioned here--economies of scale, perceived value, popularity--have an effect. But as a bread baker, I affirm that whole wheat bread is meaningfully harder to produce, and the more truly whole-wheat the bread, the harder it is to make. Whole wheat itself is more volatile and perishable, but freezing (not free) can help there. Mostly the issue is that whole wheat is more challenging in dough production, fermentation (if any), and bake-rising.

                                2 Replies
                                  1. re: Bada Bing

                                    I'll buy that. (and literally as well) I like white bread, but when I want WW I don't want the cousin that is practically the same but just looks a little different.

                                  2. 10 years ago when my wife was doing her masters at UW Seattle via a distance program, she was required to live on campus for about 4-5 weeks in each of the 4 summers of her program duration. I'd go down and visit her on the weekends, and we'd end up eating in the student commissary for some meals (she had to eat there regularly since her tuition already covered the costs). I was shocked to find there were absolutely no breads, rolls, cereals of any sorts that weren't wholly white and refined. Not even 60% WW breads. No "healthy" breakfast cereals at all too. I can see how public education institutions prescribe to outsourced suppliers and food-prep (ie: Sysco) conglomerates for the best-possible value-for-dollar, but I was quite dismayed to see that's what the students were subjected to, and what little choices they had, on campus at least. Coffee creamers only came in 10% MF. The milk dispensers for the cereals were a minimum of 2% MF (I drink skim or non-fat at home). But it was what it was, since eating off-campus would be more expensive and buying groceries to cook in her dorm room was not a viable option.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: LotusRapper

                                      "crunchy" seattle was so backwards? wow, that surprises me.

                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        Sorry, I'm not getting the "crunchy" reference .....

                                          1. re: LotusRapper

                                            "crunchy" means a granola and whole grain type crowd. brown rice only thx. vegan if you're serious, vegetarian if you're a wuss.

                                            cold plunge baths in streams can also play a role but are optional.

                                            1. re: hill food

                                              Haha, got it ! :-)

                                              Hey we're total crunchy land up here (Vancouver BC) and the crunchy folks are readily ID'd by their latest Arcteryx or Mountain Hardware attire (North Face is soooooo 20th century) riding $$$ hybrid bikes, or driving Prius, VW Jetta TDI with roof bike racks, sipping some 3rd-wave caffeinated elixirs.

                                      2. For the same reason a motorcycle tire costs much more than a car tire. Demand and mass production.
                                        Don't try to figure it out it does not make sense.
                                        Try to wrap your head around this one: A 300HP Yamaha outboard is $21,000. It costs as much as a small car with wheels, windows, A/C, 5 speed transmission, seats......need I go on!!!!!!!!!!!! Go figure?

                                        1. Centuries ago producing white flour was considerably more expensive, since the stone ground wheat had to be sifted several times ('bolted'). The rich ate light colored bread, the poor got bread that was loaded with bran, stone bits (from the grinding stones), and cheaper grains like rye and barley. The cheapest, coarsest bread was used as plates (trenchers) and given away afterwards.


                                          But since the middle of the 19th century millers have been using steel rollers, which separates the bran at the same time as they grind the kernel. This reduced the cost of white flour considerably. In fact, whole wheat flour might actually be white flour with ground bran added back in. In the grocery, white flour is cheaper than whole wheat (with the exception of specialty types).

                                          And yes, bran does interfere with the development of gluten and raising.

                                          history of bread

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: paulj

                                            Yes, "whole wheat" is bran added bread.
                                            It's better termed as high fiber, because it sure ain't whole wheat. (that's graham flour).

                                            1. re: Chowrin

                                              According to this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_f...

                                              'The endosperm is ground finely, initially creating a fresh unbleached yellowish-white flour. The bran and germ are ground coarsely. The two parts are then recombined, creating a coarse-textured flour '

                                              Bobs Red Mill, on the other hand, claims their white wheat flour is stone ground, so the parts aren't ground separately.

                                              That Wiki article touches briefly on the pros/cons of stone ground v rolled.

                                          2. In Michael Pollan's recent book "Cooked" goes into detail about how the modern bread industry has come to the standard for white bread. Everything from the wheat that is grown specifically for that purpose to the equipment that has been invented.

                                            He contrasts that with the methods of artisan bakers who are making a bread from whole grains and hands on methods.

                                            Bread is just one section of the book, it's a great read for anyone interested in food.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: pamf

                                              Thanks for the rec. I've liked his other books so will have to get this one, too.

                                            2. They've probably made studies, or believe, that the typical consumer of brown bread is willing to pay more. Maybe that person is a more affluent consumer, or if not more affluent is willing to shell out more for certain types of bread.
                                              As an anecdote, a couple of years ago blueberries were really expensive in Chile because they were perceived as "rich people food" (said crassly)--despite already having a huge production and export. Now, the prices have come down quite a bit, and in the season (now) cost around $2.00 US for a "pote."

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Wawsanham

                                                Has the grade changed?
                                                I wouldn't be surprised if they were costly if you're actually
                                                getting "rich people food"...

                                                What gets me about high fiber bread is -- it's a shitty product. I've got tons of ways to get fiber -- give me some
                                                white bread.