AUSTIN, TEXAS — Charlie Pace acquired Gluten Free Kneads in 2011. He then changed the company’s name to Smart Flour Foods to highlight the broader potential and mainstream appeal of the products.
“We are proud to offer certified gluten-free solutions for those with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, but we also strive to create better-for-you foods that taste great to anyone who tries them, regardless of food allergies,” Mr. Pace said. “We also thought including ‘smart’ in the name provided a good reference point to the ancient grain flour blend that serves as a base for all of our product offerings. Made with the naturally gluten-free whole grains sorghum, amaranth and teff, this proprietary flour makes our products higher in protein, vitamins and minerals than leading brands.”
That strategy from 2011 seems on trend in 2017 as the gluten-free category seeks avenues for continued growth. Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md., in an October 2016 report projected growth rates in the U.S. gluten-free foods market to slow from the high double-digit rates experienced a decade ago to single-digit rates in the coming years. Sales of gluten-free foods in the nine categories analyzed in the report should grow to $2 billion in 2020, up nearly $400 million from 2015.
Ancient grains, along with pulses, could play key roles in the growth.
“For food processors, these ingredients provide whole food, plant-based protein sources that enhance appearance, deliver unique tastes and textures, pack a nutritional wallop and invite variety and innovation,” the Packaged Facts report said.
Enter Smart Flour Foods, which has a history dating to 2005. Georgia Hutton, a baker in Austin, Texas, sought to create a gluten-free flour blend for a friend with celiac disease. She wanted a flour blend that had better taste, texture and nutrition than other flour blends on the market. Experimentation led her to sorghum, amaranth and teff. The friend’s physician, Erika Leakey, tried the blend and liked it so much she teamed up with Ms. Hutton to found Gluten Free Kneads.
“This flour was used to make the crust of the pizza at one of my favorite local pizzerias in our hometown of Austin,” Mr. Pace said. “For me, it was love at first bite. I immediately realized that not only was the ancient grain blend a healthier option for me, it also had the taste, texture and nutrition that would appeal to all discerning food consumers, whether they suffered from food allergies or not.”
Mr. Pace was diagnosed as gluten intolerant in 2009, which led him to adopt a gluten-free diet.
“Though my health improved, my meal and snack choices became plainer, dryer and less convenient,” he said. “Traveling for work and maintaining a gluten-free diet was complicated, and my family was now limited to eating at restaurants with gluten-free options on the menu, which often ended up being just a garden salad.”
Through Smart Flour Foods, he sought ways to improve meal and snack choices for people who are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease. Ms. Hutton and Ms. Leakey remain minority partners in the company, he said.
Sales nearly have doubled each year since he bought the company, Mr. Pace said. A retail line launched in the fall of 2013 and won a best new product award at Natural Products Expo East. The company’s presence in retail grew to nearly 1,000 stores in a little over a year and extends to more than 3,000 retail locations now.
“Leading grocery chains like HEB, Kroger, Stop & Shop and Wegmans now carry the brand, and key retailers such as Sprouts and Whole Foods Market have expanded their Smart Flour Foods offering,” Mr. Pace said. “In addition, our ancient grain-based pizza crusts, flatbread, hamburger buns, new hoagie rolls, and pancake and waffle mix are available at restaurants nationwide, including popular chains like Spago, Mellow Mushroom, Giordano’s, Pie Five, Blue Moon Pizza, The Original Pancake House and Life Time Fitness.”
Smart Flour Foods sells both pizza and pizza crusts. This year the company introduced Snack Bites in three flavor varieties: three cheese, uncured pepperoni, and pepperoni and sausage combo. Besides the proprietary flour blend of sorghum, amaranth and teff, Snack Bites also contain chia.
“Our specialty pizzas are sold in classic cheese, pepperoni and margherita flavors, along with Italian-inspired varieties like Tuscan-inspired two meat and chicken sausage,” Mr. Pace said. “Perhaps the Bites will follow suit. We may also use the Snack Bites as a carrier for fillings that go beyond pizza flavors, such as chicken marsala.”