“We spent a whole year test marketing the brand and the products with US consumers and retailers before we went into full-scale launch mode, and we’ve made terrific progress in the past two years,” added Bracka, who has already secured listings for his wares in 7,000+ stores in 50 states from Sprouts to Central Market, Wegmans, Fresh Thyme, and Kroger.
Retailers, he says, have been watching volumes stagnate in the ready to eat cereals category for several years, which makes this an opportune time to pitch products offering something new, which in Freedom Foods’ case is its allergen-free credentials, a fresh, modern-looking brand utilizing on-trend ingredients, and the reassurance that its products are produced in dedicated allergen-free facility audited to exacting standards.
“The propensity for consumers to have more than one food allergy is growing, and growing quite significantly, and we’ve been having a lot of conversations with retailers about what that means,” adds Bracka.
“I think they are very familiar with gluten-free, but free-from is an emerging opportunity. And really there is just ourselves, Enjoy Life Foods and one or two others that are in this category at the moment.
“In cereals, the overall market is pretty flat, but the natural, Non-GMO and gluten-free cereals are growing at around 6-7% and the free-from category, while a lot smaller, is growing at 40-45%, so we’re very excited about the opportunity.”
US production an option further down the line
While importing cereals from the firm’s dedicated allergen-free manufacturing facilities in Australia does add cost, it has significant economies of scale in its Australian facility, which offsets much of this, says Bracka, who has just introduced allergen-free snack bars to the US market and says more new products will follow over time.
Meanwhile, assuming certain milestones are met, the company is considering setting up packing – and then production facilities - in the US, within the next five years, says Bracka, who has been on the road almost constantly since moving to the West Coast attending shows and other allergy-friendly events targeting the trade and consumers, in a bid to drive awareness of the Freedom Foods brand.
He has also spent time cultivating relationships with the Canadian Celiac Society and the Allergen Control Group, experts in gluten control management systems and owners of the Gluten-Free Certification program, and has had fruitful conversations with schools, and foodservice companies in recent weeks.
Quinoa, sorghum, millet, buckwheat and chia
While the percentage of consumers with food allergies is growing, like most manufacturers in this space, Freedom Foods products are also purchased by a broader set of consumers that are looking for healthy and nutritious products and believe firms making gluten- or allergen-free claims are more likely to deliver them.
In reality of course, being allergen-free does not in and of itself make a product healthier, often the opposite, acknowledges Bracka, who says firms in this space have a responsibility to improve the nutritional profile of their products to keep sugar and salt down and use more protein and fiber-packed seeds, grains and other ingredients that add positive nutrition.
“We’re unusual in that we have the scale to mill our own grains, which gives us the opportunity to treat grains in unique ways. We’re currently doing a lot of work with quinoa, sorghum, millet, buckwheat and chia, which we can source from Australia, plus prebiotic fibers from non-GMO corn.
“It’s well-publicized that gluten-free products do not always have a great nutritional profile, and we are working really hard at addressing this.”