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.