Gluten-free products and the companies that make them have come a long way in a short amount of time.
Continued awareness about celiac and gluten sensitivities, along with rising demand from Millennials, are key factors behind the popularity of gluten-free products.
Just as importantly, industry observers estimate that the category will remain strong for the foreseeable future, with growth rates of more than 7 percent annually possible during the next five years.
Gluten-free bakery products continue to attract many to the category, but other areas such as salty snacks, cereals, frozen, crackers and cookies, as well as those targeted specifically to children and ready-to-eat meals, are also seeing growth. As consumers educate themselves on the connection between food and their health, there has also been an uptick in interest in sugar-free and free-from products.
Grocery Headquarters recognizes the companies that have led, and continue to lead, the gluten-free charge with our Gluten-free Trailblazer Awards. Chosen by our editorial staff and board of retailers, the following companies are Gluten-free Trailblazer winners:
Fourteen years ago when Michael Smulders owned a Natural Food Store in Glastonbury, Conn., it was clear to him that there was a need for good-tasting, gluten-free bakery products. Smulders began creating unique granola recipes that focused on natural ingredients and incredible flavors. These premium ingredients, bakeshop delicious recipes and bringing happiness to customers were his inspirations from the beginning—and are still the cornerstones of the Hartford, Conn.-based company today.
“What makes our products unique is our dedication to using only natural, Non-GMO Project Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, dairy and casein-free ingredients,” says Smulders. The company’s latest innovation of granolas, muesli’s, oats, and hot breakfast options are not only Certified Gluten-Free, but also Certified Organic. “People want higher quality options that still taste delicious and providing that is our passion,” says Smulders.
Better For You Foods is best known for raising the bar on natural foods that satisfy the needs of health-oriented consumers and foodies alike. Under the leadership of Amy Lotker, the company has been first-to-market with a variety of frozen products—including pizzas and pizza crusts made with naturally gluten-free ancient grains, whole grains and sprouted grains.
The Delray Beach, Fla. company’s latest innovation is a 100% Vegan Gluten-Free Certified Thin Pizza Crust. The new pizza crust is made with all natural non-GMO ingredients that are free of gluten, wheat, egg, milk, nut, soy and corn.
Blount Fine Foods is best known for its fresh, premium soups, entrées, sauces and side dishes, which are sold under the Legal Sea Foods, Panera Bread and Blount Organic brands. Blount also makes premium private label refrigerated soups. Family-owned and operated, the Fall River, Mass.-based company makes its soups and specialty foods with the finest and freshest ingredients, locally sourced whenever possible, and handcrafted in small batches. Its production facilities showcase the company’s commitment to energy conservation and sustainable business practices.
“As the market leader in fresh retail soups, we are quite pleased to say that quality drives sales more than anything else, and will continue to as the category advances,” says Bob Sewall, executive vice president, sales and marketing. “We set a very high bar when we created this category 15 years ago.
“Today, we are at a point where consumers around the country walk into grocery stores and eagerly pay a premium for restaurant-quality soup. This has come about through our commitment to quality and through the spirit of collaboration we bring to every customer relationship,” he says.
The free-from category is projected to reach $12 billion by 2020, nearly double the size of today’s $6.5 billion market. Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer for Enjoy Life Foods, based in Chicago, says given that the average free-from shopper spends $102 per basket, compared to the average shopper spend of $46, it is important to be creative when reaching out to consumers through their retail partnerships. “As the No. 1 free from brand, we are excited to be at the forefront of driving innovation across multiple categories for the 75 million people shopping for foods without allergens or gluten,” says Warady.
To help drive awareness and trial of its free from foods, the company launched a nationwide Enjoy Life school bus tour this year that is sampling more than 600,000 snacks and coupons spanning 32 cities for 28 consecutive weeks.
Warady anticipates the number of allergy-friendly products exponentially growing across multiple grocery aisles in the near future. “As consumers become more aware of what’s in their food we expect to see more innovative free from options hitting shelves featuring unique flavors, plant-based proteins, convenience and clean labels,” he says.
While exploring a street market in China, Explore Cuisine founder Joe Spronz stumbled upon delicious bean noodles and knew he had found something great. With new health trends and dietary needs on the rise, Spronz decided to create a healthy version of pasta made from organic beans, peas, lentils and rice that was high protein, high fiber, gluten-free and organic.
The brand strives to give back to those who contribute to Red Bank, N.J.-based Explore Cuisine’s innovation and success, which is why two percent of all Explore Cuisine worldwide proceeds go directly to the Food To Thrive Foundation, providing education, empowerment and advancement in farming programs.
Kayco officials say the secret to making the gluten-free products for its Absolutely Gluten Free brand delicious is using the finest natural ingredients. Flour-free, light and tasty, Absolutely Gluten Free crackers are uniquely made with potatoes to deliver a crisp texture—with no soy, corn or rice included.
Kimberly Cassar, vice president of marketing, says using unique ingredients to create new flavor profiles in gluten-free products is a growing trend today. To capture this interest the Bayonne, N.J.-based company has created Absolutely Organic Superseed Crunch, a light and crunchy snack with a touch of sweetness. A mixture of chia seeds, whole sesame seed and golden flax seeds, Superseed Crunch is a great source of Omega 3 ALA, dietary fiber, calcium, iron and antioxidants. It is dairy-free, soy-free, vegan and low sodium. “This is an organic gourmet delight and nutritional powerhouse all-in-one which also happens to taste delicious,” says Cassar.
The commitment to making healthy snacks and cereals that are fitness-, diabetes- and family-friendly is what makes Kay’s Naturals stand apart. The Clara City, Minn.-based company’s main line products include protein cereals, chips, pretzels, puffs and cookie bites, all which have 12 grams of non-GMO plant protein per 1.2-ounce serving and 4 grams of fiber with only 3 grams sugar.
While all of Kay’s products are part of the solution for obesity, diabetes and gluten intolerance, Ann Jones Kazemzadeh, president, says the company is most proud of its protein cereals because they provide a hearty breakfast in a convenient format with high protein, good fiber and low sugar, a combination she says cannot be found anywhere else. “Today’s consumers are reading labels and limiting their sugar and starch intake, while increasing protein and fiber,” says Jones Kazemzadeh.
All of Luke’s Organic snacks are organic, non-GMO, gluten- and sugar-free, along with a host of other certifications. “All of us know a ‘Luke.’ says Steve Kneepkens, vice president of sales and marketing for the Santa Cruz, Calif.-based company. “It is our aunt, our brother, our husband or wife, our mom or dad—millions of people are affected by food allergies or intolerances.”
Luke’s Organic Potato Chips stand apart because the company controls the entire start from raw ingredient to end product. Luke’s Organic is one of the largest growers of organic potatoes in the U.S., which means they have consistent supply of high quality organic potatoes.
Making on-the-go snacks people can feel better about eating is one of the key missions at Nature’s Bakery. With a focus on creating bakery shop quality taste and texture, all of Nature’s Bakery’s products are also non-GMO, kosher and dairy-free and contain no HFCS.
Nature’s Bakery’s latest innovation is a line of Organic Brownies and Organic Honey & Oat Soft Baked Fruit Bars. These new products will be added to its existing line of Gluten-Free Fig Bars and Whole Wheat Fig Bar snack offerings. “We are most proud of our Fig Bar products as their popularity has helped us become who we are today as a brand and has set the gold standard for what we strive for in terms of quality and taste,” says Andrew Strolin, vice president of marketing for the Reno, Nev.-based company.
Nature’s Path is a family-owned business that has been committed to organics and sustainability for more than 30 years. Its continued goal is to be a trusted name for quality organic foods by adhering to a triple-bottom line of being socially responsible, environmentally sustainable and financially viable. The company’s guiding principle is to “always leave the earth better than you found it.”
“At Nature’s Path, we want to inspire everyone to feel they have a choice and a voice about their food, what’s planted and how it’s grown. As we like to say, choose well and good things will grow,’” says Arjan Stephens, executive vice president of the Richmond, B.C.-Canada-based company.
NOW Foods’ mission is to provide value in products and services that empower people to lead healthier lives. Founded in 1968 by Elwood Richard, the company is still owned by the Richard family, all of whom remain committed to genuinely healthy alternatives to mainstream products. The company’s food brands, which include Ellyndale Foods, NOW Real Food and Living Now, are all healthy, natural and organic foods that also deliver on taste.
The goal of the Living Now brand, says David Rosenberg, foods category manager for the Bloomingdale, Ill.-based company, is to offer great-tasting products that are not only gluten-free, but also made without the top eight allergens. “Our products are made in a dedicated gluten-free facility with only fresh, non-GMO ingredients and no highly processed sweeteners like corn syrup and refined sugar,” says Rosenberg.
Pereg produces an array of all-natural products that includes ancient grains and ancient grain blends, gluten-free pasta, couscous, rice, gluten-free cereal and much more.
Pereg manufactures all of its products from start to finish, controlling the quality from the sourcing until the product is packed and ready for the consumer. All Pereg products are kosher certified by both the Orthodox Union (OU) and CRC, are dairy- and lactose-free as well as all natural, with no additives or preservatives. Many products are also certified gluten-free and non-GMO. “Consumers are attuned to product ingredients and are looking for clean products and better eating choices,” says Brett Fuss, vice president of the Clifton, N.J.-based company.
Kristy Lewis’ goal when she created Boulder, Colo.-based Quinn Snacks was to make a safer, healthier alternative to microwave popcorn, and thus the Pure Pop Bag was born—the first and only clean microwave popcorn bag stripped of all chemical and plastic coatings made with real ingredients.
Transparency and sustainability have played key roles in the company’s success and push it to dig much deeper when sourcing to make food differently. Its farm-to-bag policy means consumers always know where the ingredients come from, how the products are made and the types of manufacturers and suppliers they work with. “I wanted to create a snack company that cares about what they are putting into their food—to create a brand that people can trust,” says Lewis.
After Charlie Pace discovered his own gluten intolerance, he was inspired to make gluten-free foods so good that they appealed to everyone. He purchased Smart Flour Foods in 2011 after enjoying a gluten-free pizza made with Smart Flour’s proprietary ancient-grain, gluten-free dough at his local pizzeria. Pace, who today serves as president and CEO of the Austin-based company, immediately realized that not only was the ancient-grain blend a better option for him, it had the taste, texture and nutrition that would appeal to all consumers.
The company’s latest innovation is Snack Bites, gluten-free pizza snacks. Available in the traditional and time-tested pizza flavors including Three Cheese, Uncured Pepperoni and Pepperoni & Sausage Combo, Snack Bites are certified gluten-free, free of artificial colors and flavors, made with several organic ingredients, and free of many allergens including wheat, nuts, tree nuts, soy and eggs.
One of the chief reasons TH Foods created its gluten-free Crunchmaster crackers was so that consumers did not have to choose between eating better and having food that tastes good. Kim Holman, director of marketing for the Loves Park, Ill.–based company, says every recipe starts focused on taste. “Then, our crackers just happen to be gluten-free, kosher and free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives because we believe tasty foods can also be better for you,” says Holman.
The company’s latest innovations include Protein Snack Crackers, which have 5 grams of plant-based, soy-free protein and only 130 calories in 32 crackers. The crackers come in Sea Salt, Barbeque and Roasted Garlic flavors. The company’s Crunchmaster Tuscan Peasant crackers have a rich, authentic flavor baked right into the base cracker, with a light and crispy crunch.
For almost 90 years, the Toufayans have been filling lunch boxes, toasters, and stomachs with fresh lines of pitas, flatbreads, bagels, wraps, lavash and breadsticks. Based in Ridgefield, N.J., with bakeries in Orlando and Plant City, Fla., the third-generation of Toufayans oversee the entire process from ingredient sourcing and production to distribution. Today, Toufayan is one of the largest privately held specialty bread bakeries in the U.S.
Toufayan was among the very first companies to develop and introduce a gluten-free wrap that had the taste and texture of regular wraps and also offers gluten-free pita chips. One of the company’s latest products, Goodie Girl Gluten-Free Cookies, comes in classic flavors such as Mint Slims, Chocolate Chunk, Midnight Brownie, Toffee Crunch, and Oatmeal Raisin.
“Toufayan has always been sensitive to health trends and ensuring that we offer a range of products that satisfied all consumers,” says Karen Toufayan, vice president of marketing and sales.
Ever since she was 16, Jill Motew, founder of Zemas Madhouse Foods, based in Highland Park, Ill., understood the connection between what she ate and how she felt. After getting married and having five kids, she began to create her own line of baking mixes for her family. Zemas Madhouse Foods grew organically out of her kitchen and today the company has a line of ready-to-eat cookies as well.
Motew says Zemas products stand apart from competitors because they only use ancient whole grains that are naturally gluten-free and nutrient dense. “We are also set apart by our certifications which include kosher, GFCO, Non-GMO Project Verified, Vegan and Top 8 Allergen free—making our products safe for all families,” she says.