SALT LAKE CITY — Just over a decade ago, Johanna Dasteel resolved several chronic health conditions through a doctor-prescribed diet free of grains, dairy and refined sugar. Her new lifestyle was lifechanging — but hardly convenient.
“I felt like an inconvenience to other people as well as not having the convenience of being able to pick up things at the grocery store,” Ms. Dasteel said. “I really had to buckle down and make things for myself.”
Several years of baking experiments led to the launch of The Loaf, a brand of organic, grain-free, dairy-free bread and cookies. Products are available online at the loafgrainfree.com and in Erewhon and select Whole Foods Market stores. Varieties include sandwich bread, Irish soda bread, cinnamon raisin bread, vegan chocolate chip cookies and vegan lemon ginger cookies. All products are certified organic and paleo.
“My symptoms were autoimmune in nature, and I just can’t tangle with conventional foods with chemicals like glyphosate,” Ms. Dasteel said. “I’m still kind of flabbergasted mine is the only organic paleo bread on the market. It’s the major differentiating factor, among taste and other ingredients.”
The sandwich bread contains eggs, almond flour, coconut fiber, honey, coconut oil, baking soda and sea salt. None of the products use psyllium husk, popular in paleo recipes but a problematic ingredient for those with autoimmune conditions, Ms. Dasteel said. The brand also never includes soy, peanuts or legumes, gums or yeast, additives or preservatives. The products are packaged in plant-based, compostable plastic-free clear bags and a recyclable paper sleeve.
“My primary driver with the packaging is health, health of the person, not just health of the planet,” Ms. Dasteel said. “I didn’t want plastic touching any of these products. That was a major thing in my own health journey.”
She processes the products in a dedicated gluten-free production facility in Salt Lake City. Ms. Dasteel achieved organic certification from the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Finding a manufacturing partner that matches her rigorous ingredient standards has been a challenge.
“I’m fully open to finding a co-packer to be a good partner in this because of course that’s the most straightforward economical way of scaling a food business,” she said. “When it comes to engaging co-packers, the kinds of co-packers that might work for me are the ones that are totally allergen-free, but I can’t engage them yet because I have almond flour in all of my products.”
She aims to add nut-free and egg-free options, using ingredients such as tiger nut flour and cassava flour, to serve more consumers’ dietary needs. Longer term, she plans to introduce other baked items, such as nutrition bars and breakfast biscuits.
“The options are endless, and I don’t want to restrict the company to bread,” Ms. Dasteel said. “I want to expand into other products, scale the company, be in more stores to address the convenience factor. I want people seeking health in this way to be able to pick up food at the grocery store like everyone else does.”
“The options are endless, and I don’t want to restrict the company to bread.” — Johanna Dasteel, The Loaf
To date, the business has been largely self-funded, with contributions from friends and family, plus a successful Kickstarter campaign, which helped Ms. Dasteel establish the market opportunity. She is in the process of seeking a lead investor for a pre-seed fundraising round to support expanded production, distribution and direct-to-consumer sales.
“This came out of personal need, seeing there are tons of other people who eat this way and were feeling isolated and feeling the lack of convenience, and I really just felt solidarity with them,” Ms. Dasteel said. “I didn’t realize I had the entrepreneurial itch for a really long time, but I finally identified it when I saw this and decided to do that. People with autoimmune disease are terribly underserved. The relief I hear from my customers through their reviews, phone calls, text messages, any communication I have… it’s just pure relief.”