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Special Diets

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Michigan Brothers Turn Health Issue into Business Success

By Robin Mather

For Marshall Rader, a 2009 diagnosis of celiac disease meant more than the usual headaches as he tried to eat gluten-free while on the road.

“I could be going anywhere from two days to two weeks abroad,” he says. “The gluten-free market was in the Stone Age in that time. Finally, I found an acceptable gluten-free bar and used them to subsist while I was on the road. I was eating about four bars a day, and one day, I thought, ‘I can do better than this.’ I was wanting to use better ingredients.”

So Marshall, now the CEO of The GFB: The Gluten-Free Bar, persuaded his brother, Elliott, to join him as the Vice-President of Marketing in the company, founded about seven years ago in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One of its newest products is the Power Breakfast bar, a higher protein oatmeal product “in a cool new package,” Marshall says. Its suggested retail price is $2.19 to $2.79.

The company’s other bars have suggested retail prices ranging from $1.99 to $2.49, and its Bites line, in larger packaging, has suggested retail prices of $4.99 to $5.49.

“My dad, when I got home and told him about the diagnosis, said, ‘that’s not real.’ Finally, after several years, he was tested and he has celiac disease, too. He’d been medicating for 40 years for skin issues, and once he stopped eating gluten, his skin issues cleared immediately. So there are four of us in the family, and only one of us can eat gluten.”

Elliott himself also was subsequently diagnosed with celiac disease, Marshall says, so the brothers have a special commitment to making a superior product.

“Our ingredients are super simple,” Marshall says. “You could go to the local grocery store and buy all the ingredients to make something very similar. We have all the goodness of homemade, and save you the trouble of making them yourself.”

Marshall is proud of the quality ingredients used in the GFB, he says. “We use vegan proteins, and high quality ingredients. Our almond butter is only almonds, for example. Our chocolate chips are premium, dairy-free dark chocolate.”

He’s also proud of “some great sourcing stories,” he says. “We work with Caro Nuts to source cashews from Africa, where they’re picked and processed on-site by disadvantaged women. We feel really good about using them.”

Caro Nuts, a division of Candor Ag, works with small farmers around the world to help them market their crops. The company also markets small farmers’ artichoke hearts under its Cynara division and small growers’ olive oil under its Bellucci division.
The GFB is a certified B Corporation, too, Marshall says, so “we’re around to make great products and do some good in the world. Even if it costs a bit more, we’re doing good.”

The GFB’s products are manufactured in Grand Rapids, Marshall says, and employs about 45 people. “We’re also a little bit unusual in that we don’t outsource the manufacturing of our products,” he says. “We own our own manufacturing facility.”
The future looks bright for The GFB, Marshall says.

“We have big goals — we’re an emerging national brand,” he says. “We’re already in about 9,000 stores in the United States and Canada, so we’re planning to continue to grow our customer base by making the best gluten-free snacks. We have a lot of innovation coming — exciting new flavors coming down the line for our bar line, and expanding our breakfast line this year.”
Turning a health liability into a positive asset, both as a business and as a positive force in the world, seems to be Marshall’s strong suit.

Putting Dairy Back on the Menu for the Lactose-Sensitive

By Lorrie Baumann

Tim Millson is on a mission to put honest-to-goat dairy products into the hands of everyone who hasn’t had ice cream for years or can’t eat cheddar popcorn because they can’t or won’t tolerate cow milk. There are more than 50 million people in the U.S. who won’t buy dairy products made from cow milk – some of them because they can’t digest it and some of them because they’re concerned about environmental sustainability or animal welfare issues, according to the man who calls himself the Mayor of Epic Source Foods, the company behind the LaLoo’s Ice Cream Company and Funny Farm Foods. “That’s a title that I got years ago and it kind of stuck,” he says. “Because we are such a small company, when you’re not co-owning or CEOing, you’re cleaning the bathroom.”

When he’s not doing those things, he’s often taking calls from consumers who want to tell him their stories. “They’re there to tell me that they were watching the grocer stock the shelves, and they have a report to make about how the grocer was handling the product or that the store was out of stock,” he says. “They call me when they get to enjoy a food type that they haven’t had in – maybe forever, because of their allergies.” The ownership of Epic Source is shared between Millson, his wife and the employees, who make up the majority share. Milk comes from a Wisconsin goat dairy cooperative composed of small family farms and the goats who are the “Epic Source” reflected in the company’s name. “The majority of everything we do comes from goats,” Millson says. “We’ve always thought of the goat as the most perfect milk source on the planet… The goat is very similar to the human, even if you can’t see it. Goat milk is the closest thing to mother’s milk on the planet.”

He points out that goat kids are born at roughly the same weight as human babies and that they mature to a weight that’s similar to that of a healthy adult human. That makes goat milk a source of nourishment that’s appropriate to support that amount of growth, he says.

For those who are looking for a product that’s kinder to the environment or to the animals than cow milk, he points out that: “Goats produce more milk per ounce of grass eaten than any other animal. Goats will eat whatever you’ll allow them access to. The farms that we put together are some of the cleanest pastures you’ll ever see. They’re not let out to help the neighbors mow their lawn. We’re very picky about what we allow the goats access to — grass and alfalfa. We can control it. Because of that, you get a great-tasting milk that tastes just like cow milk.”

“We spend a lot of time at the farms working and talking and visiting with our farmers, and every time you get to the farm, you can’t help smiling,” he adds. “The goats just start yelling at you because they want to be petted.”

He became a convert to goat milk when he and his wife, Julia, the company’s Chief Financial Officer and President, bought LaLoo’s Ice Cream six years ago as a going concern in need of some investment. They took it over and started running it, and then Millson started getting the letters from customers who wrote in to say that their ice cream had been a boon to someone who hadn’t been able to eat ice cream before. Those letters often asked that the company diversify its product range to provide more options to people who couldn’t tolerate cow milk dairy but still wanted to enjoy foods like pizza, macaroni and cheese and even cheddar popcorn.

Epic Source responded with Funny Farm, the company’s brand for those new products. “We said to ourselves, ‘You know, there are these basics that people can’t have – cheddar popcorn, mac and cheese, pizza,’” Millson says. “It just became a labor of love.”

Today, the company makes multiple flavors of LaLoo’s Ice Cream that are all made with 100 percent goat milk and a short list of other ingredient and four varieties of Funny Farm macaroni and cheese dinner: the original Macaroni & Cheese; Shapes, which has pasta shaped like pizza, ice cream and goats; Jalapeno White Cheddar and Brown Rice & Quinoa Shells Macaroni & Cheese, which is gluten free. “It tastes just like cow products, but a whole lot better. It is so creamy that it’ll just blow your mind,” Millson says.

Funny Farm also makes three kinds of pizzas: Goat Milk 3 Cheese Pizza, Sausage & Uncured Pepperoni Pizza Made with Goat Milk Cheese, and Veggie Pizza Made with Goat Milk Cheese. There are two varieties of cheesy popcorn: White Cheddar and Jalapeno White Cheddar. “All of our popcorn is non GMO, grown in the U.S.,” Millson says.

For those who like their cheese to be completely cheesy, Funny Farm offers four kinds, all sold in 6-ounce blocks: Cheddar, which is a white cheddar, a Mozzarella, Pepper Jack and Confuzed. They’re all made from 100 percent goat milk except Confuzed, which is a cheddar made from half cow milk and half goat milk. “That one has cow – it’s the only thing that does. But it’s clearly marked.,” Millson says. “That’s why we called it Confuzed.”

The new Funny Farm products launched nationwide last year in a blitz that still has Millson reeling a little bit. “We launched all the products and have been working night and day to get them out there because there has been so much demand for them,” Millson says. “We are up, and we are heading out just as many places as we can…. We continue to get a lot of good news, and we try to keep everything growing slowly until we can get a partner to help us take it to the next level.”

Virgil’s Soda Line Seeks a Genius

Virgil’s handcrafted soda, from the makers of Reed’s Ginger Beer, has launched a nationwide search for a spokesperson to represent the genius of the new Virgil’s Zero Sugar product line.

Virgil's root beerThe Reed’s Inc. team have created something special with the Virgil’s Zero Sugar line, which will launch late spring in 12-ounce cans and feature six flavors, including Root Beer, Black Cherry, Vanilla Cream, Cola, Lemon Lime and Orange.

The chosen winner will be an integral part of the official launch of Virgil’s Zero Sugar, representing the brand at public events and in the company’s upcoming advertising campaign.

Anyone 18 years of age or older may apply and make their case why they should be the new “Virgil’s Genius.” Contestants can enter via video submission at www.virgils.com. The submission deadline is May 31, 2018. Any and all forms of genius will be considered.

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