Denver-based Ardent Mills has a long history in flour milling dating back to the 1800s and has more than 40 flour mills and bakery-mix facilities along with a specialty bakery, Ardent Mills Innovation Center and Mobile Innovation Center, all located in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico.
“A big part of Ardent Mills is a focus on innovative grain-based solutions,” Don Trouba, senior director go-to-market, The Annex by Ardent Mills, told FoodNavigator-USA at the IFT show last week in Chicago.
“For many years, Ardent Mills has had its toe in the water when it comes to ancient grains and specialty grains.”
The company had already been producing specialty grains such as amaranth, quinoa, sorghum, teff for many years, according to Trouba.
Ardent Mills Great Plains quinoa for example is North America’s only scalable supply, Trouba claimed, and is available in a variety of formats including whole seeds, whole grain flour, crisps, IQF (individually quick frozen), and flakes.
“While we had all these efforts our business realized we needed to put even more focus behind it.”
Trouba explained that The Annex, a group of about 15 individuals, “works hand-in-hand” with Ardent Mills but with a focus on developing and cultivating relationships with specialty grain growers throughout North America.
The issue with specialty grains such as heirloom and ancient varieties can be low yields since they haven’t been historically commercialized at scale to the degree of wheat.
While Ardent Mills has a number of specialty products available, the company is working to grow more varieties and broaden its portfolio.
“Growers are also looking for ways that they can add value. We make that investment so farmers know that they’re going to have a market for that,” he said.
Of particular focus for The Annex has been White Sonora, a variety of soft white wheat typically grown in the Southwest US dating back to the 18th century and used frequently in tortillas.
“We’re working with farmers and growing more of it,” Trouba said.
While certain popular diets have followers swear off products with wheat or grains, a move back towards certain specialty wheats is occurring.
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation out about wheat. With that said, I think we’re beginning to experience a resurgence in grains,” Trouba added.
Benefits of using specialty grains such as ancient and heirloom varieties included added visual and textural appeal along with a pleasing aroma.
“People are starting to say ‘maybe we should give grains another look’ and that applies to wheat, certain types of baked goods with traditional wheat and also heirlooms.”
Formulation and formats
Ardent Mills has seen adoption of ancient grain varieties pick up across categories and meal occasions including breakfast in formats such as overnight oats (that can also be applied to pretty much any grain), lunch and dinnertime with the emergence of grain bowls, and baked goods highlighting specific ancient grains.
“There are categories of baking that are doing well. Tortillas and flatbreads are doing really well,” Trouba added.
The company’s IQF capability for example offers its food service customers an opportunity to hop on the grain bowl craze as individually freezing the grains or pulses (using liquid nitrogen) allowing for easier pourability and flow as opposed to one big frozen block.
“It’s not about any one individual category, what we’re seeing is that people are beginning to understand or re-recognize, re-discover that grains actually work across any part of the day,” Trouba continued.
“There’s really no limit on what you can do with flour and grain.”