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Boulder Brands on the growth of gluten-free in foodservice: ‘There is potentially an avalanche coming’

By Elaine WATSON , 28-Feb-2014
Last updated on 03-Mar-2014 at 18:13 GMT

Boulder Brands on gluten-free in foodservice, Q4, 2013 sales

The foodservice sector could generate explosive growth for gluten-free products, although it’s hard to predict exactly when talk will translate into action, according to the firm behind leading gluten-free brands Udi’s and Glutino.

Speaking on Boulder Brands’ fourth quarter 2013 earnings call on Thursday, CEO Steve Hughes said gluten-free foodservice sales currently represented a small part of Boulder Brands’ business ($12m out of $461.4m), albeit a much larger chunk than it did in 2012 (c.$4m),

In 2014, however, that figure could be “$17m … or we could be $35m”, he said. “When it comes, it will come in big clumps.

“So it's kind of happening, but there is potentially an avalanche coming here. I don't know if it happens in 2014… I think this could be the year we get one of the big multi-nationals… They're all looking at it, studying it.  I think given the level of engagement we have from a range of major players… all the right people are talking to us."

This could be the year we get one of the big multi-nationals…

Currently, momentum is growing in specialty burger chains and sport stadiums (buns), pizza shops (pizza crust), and coffee and donut shops (muffins, bagels), he added, with partners including Donatos Pizza, Smashburger and TGI Friday's. “Holiday Inn Express is hard spec-ing 2 Udi's items for their breakfast program.

“We had a top-to-top here with a major customer this week. I think, as we've said before, it's going to take a while for the food service operators to really get their heads around not only [the fact that] gluten-free is a trend, not a fad, but also, okay, now how do I it?”  

We're launching a new and improved Glutino bread in the first quarter of 2014

In the grocery retail channel, both brands continued to perform well in Q4, he said, with Udi's net sales up 57% year-on-year and Glutino's up 15%, while the average number of Glutino/Udi’s products stocked in the US conventional grocery channel had risen from 15.9 items a year ago to 20.3 items today.

The aim is to increase this to 25 items by the end of 2014, he added. “We are seeing continued very strong growth on Udi's. We think Glutino is going to moderate into the 10% to 15%, that kind of growth range.”

On the product development front, he said: “We're going to be launching a new and improved Glutino bread in the first quarter, and the product is just a step-change… in both product quality and cost. We also expect to launch 8 to 12 Udi's Gluten Free frozen entrées and handheld products in 2014.”

Progress is also being made in Europe, with 19 Udis products launching at the UK’s top grocer Tesco during Q4, he said. “This launch was the largest ever branded gluten-free launch to date in the UK.  In January, Asda took 15 items, and we expect Sainsbury's to follow in early Q2.”

Millennials and the frozen food cabinet

The recently-acquired EVOL Foods frozen convenience food brand, meanwhile, also “has significant potential for Boulder Brands in 2014”, predicted Hughes.

EVOL, which generated net sales of $17m in 2013, has strong appeal to Millennials, who are turning away from big frozen brands such as Healthy Choice, Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine, claimed Hughes. “The retailers really believe that they need something new.

“EVOL, I think 40% of its users are Millennials, and Millennials are not going to buy Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine and Weight Watchers. We have one major account. Check out Target. Target's got [EVOL] burritos, the bowls and they just took the skillet meals in. We have a fabulous proof of concept. Target is very pleased with the performance and the incrementality of bringing people back in [to the frozen category].”

Diabetes management

Another recently-acquired small business - Level Life Foods, a specialist in diabetes management products - is also gaining traction with retailers, he claimed.  “In Q4, we began selling 4 bars and 4 shakes in advance of the Q1 2014 shelf resets. And we expect to gain significant distribution in 2014.”

Net sales of the Earth Balance brand meanwhile, grew 25% over the quarter driven by strong growth in spreads and nut butters, as well as new products, while sales of Smart Balance spreads declined.

In the year ended December 31, 2013, Boulder Brands’ net sales rose 25% to $461.4m. Full year 2014 net sales are predicted to be in the range of $540m to $550m, with EBITDA of $80m to $85m.

Click here to read about Boulder Brands' plans to go non-GMO with its Smart Balance brand.

TJ McIntyre, EVP Natural Brands at Boulder Brands, will be speaking at The FoodNavigator-USA Forum: Gluten Free in Perspective on April 30.

Click here for full details about the FREE-to attend event.

Click here to read all the articles in our recent gluten-free special edition.

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