Many consumers “across the aisle” who are not gluten intolerant or sensitive but who “just want a great product,” buy our foods, regardless of gluten-free claims, Chuck Marble said, adding he is confident that consumers will continue to buy the products even if the current high interest in a gluten-free diet wanes.
The firm also is protected from consumers’ changing diet whims because its “positioning is much bigger than just gluten,” and includes “innovative products that do not include [many] of the top eight allergies,” Marble said.
He explained the firm broadened its position beyond gluten-free foods to include the other top allergies such as wheat, dairy, eggs and soy because it did not want people with allergies or a gluten intolerance to feel special or burdensome by needing different foods.
“To us a homerun” is when everyone at the table can eat and enjoy the same food even if someone has an allergy, Marble said.
He also noted the firm’s interest in expanding its portfolio to be free of allergens because food allergens are increasing in the U.S.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the prevalence of food allergies in children younger than 18 years increased to 5.1% in 2009-2011 compared to 3.4% in 1997-1999. The prevalence held steady across all age groups, but differed by race. Specifically, the report found Hispanic children were less likely to have food allergens with only 3.6% reporting issues compared to 5% to 6% of non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black children.
The prevalence of food allergens also increased with higher income levels. Only 4.4% of children with family incomes lower than the poverty level reported food allergens compared to 5.4% of children in families with income levels more than 200% of the poverty level, the CDC reported in May 2013.
Ian’s expands portfolio to target adults
The firm is further broadening its portfolio beyond just children to include foods parents and adults want to eat, Marble said.
When Ian’s launched in 2011, it was “kid-centric” with products like “chicken nuggets, fish sticks and fun things for kids … like gluten-free chocolate pudding,” Marble said. But now the brand “has evolved its expertise in breading and batter” to include savory products for more grown-up pallets, he said.
For example, the firm is in the middle of launching Sriracha Fire Sticks – antibiotic-free chicken patties with a whole grain breading that has a “nice kick,” Marble said.
This summer the firm also launched gluten-free Italian-Style Croutons aimed at adults, which is available at Kroger stores, Marble said. Other items in the Culinary Creations lineup that launched with the croutons in July include Savory Stuffing, Tortilla Breadcrumbs and Organic Brown Rice Breadcrumbs, which give families increased flexibility in preparing allergy-friendly meals, according to a press release.
Marble says he relies on his mother’s help to develop gluten-free foods for adults. She was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease and Marble said he loves to send her the research and development projects and get her feedback since she is older.
Opportunity in the center of the plate and end of meal
Marble sees a lot of room for gluten- and allergy-free product development “in the center of the plate,” where not many other firms besides Ian’s currently operate.
“Everyone is focused on cookies, crackers, snacks and bread” for gluten-free consumers, he said, noting, “the bread category is saturated.” But very few players provide allergy-friendly proteins.
In addition to Ian’s Sriracha Fire Sticks, Ian’s offers Southwest Chicken Tenders, Smokin’ Sweet BBQ Whole Grain Chicken Nuggets and regular chicken nuggets, patties and tenders. It also markets French bread pizzas with protein and dairy-free cheese as an easy gluten-free entrée option.
Another area ripe for growth in the gluten- and allergy-free space is “higher quality desserts,” Marble said.
“There are a lot of cookies … but I mean really high-quality desserts” that feel decadent and special are hard to find, he said.
To help fill the void, Ian’s offers “pancrepes,” which are a cross between pancakes and crepes that are filled with blueberries, apples or strawberries. The microwavable pancrepes “make a great dessert with a dollop of ice cream next to it,” Marble said. He added the gluten-free pancrepe stuffed with sausage also is available for breakfast and has been a “big success.”