Newsmaker Q&A: Bakehouse rises with gluten-free market

In mid-November, Loveland-based Canyon Bakehouse announced it had landed a deal with Target, making its gluten-free breads available in hundreds of Target stores across the nation. We spoke with co-founder Christi Skow, who was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007, about how she turned a dietary restriction into a career and a highly visible Northern Colorado business.

Question: How many stores across the country sell Canyon Bakehouse bread?

Answer: Our breads are sold in more than 4,000 stores across the United States (in all 50 states). In November, four Canyon breads (7-Grain, Mountain White, Deli Rye and Cinnamon Raisin) were picked up by more than 750 Target stores across the nation. Other Colorado grocers include Whole Foods Market, King Soopers, Vitamin Cottage, Safeway and Sprouts.

Q: Now that Canyon Bakehouse is expanding into Target stores, will you have to expand your production facility? How many loaves will you be making on a daily basis?

A: We have plenty of room to expand where we are, and as we continue to grow, we look forward to continuing to employ more Coloradoans.

Q: Is gluten-free eating a trend or a dietary restriction that is here to stay? Please explain your answer.

A: If you asked us six years ago if we would ever open a bakery, we probably would have scratched our heads and stared at you in puzzlement. Before then I had been eating my fair share of gluten, until my health started to tank, and in 2007 I was diagnosed with celiac disease. While it was a challenge to adapt my eating habits, the thing I missed the most was touching, tasting and enjoying “real” bread the way I was used to. Canyon Bakehouse was founded because we knew there were other people suffering from gluten sensitivities who wanted that same real bread experience, without having to compromise on the taste or quality. But even beyond that, our breads were meant to be loved and enjoyed by the entire family, whether they’re gluten-free or not. It was equally important to make breads that had only clean, wholesome ingredients, made with 100 percent whole grains. They’re ingredients you can pronounce and find in your home kitchen, such as extra virgin olive oil, eggs and yeast.

From 2011 to 2013, the gluten-free market has grown 44 percent, going from $21.9 million to $27 million. Thirty-six percent of Americans who eat gluten-free foods say they do so for reasons other than gluten sensitivity/Celiac disease. To us, this isn’t just a trend – it’s a continued shift in the way people eat. It’s moving away from the traditional white, fluffy processed bread to clean, healthy ingredients you can feel good about feeding your whole family. We see Canyon as great, healthy breads that just happen to be gluten free.

Q: Does Canyon Bakehouse have any plans to expand outside of the gluten-free market?

A: You never know where life will take you down the road – we certainly never thought we’d be running a gluten-free bakery and I’d be living with celiac disease – but for now, we want to stick with what we’re good at, and follow our goal of helping others with gluten sensitivities and those seeking pure, wholesome breads. Our mission is to have everyone love bread again.

Q: How do you create your bread recipes? Tell us about the process of getting the product from an idea to a marketable product.

A: Our co-founder Ed Miknevicius is also our master baker. Baking is his passion, so of course we’ve always looked to him for his expertise in baking breads that taste delicious, are healthy, and of course gluten-free, and sometimes that’s a difficult combination! We’re always looking for new recipes and products to develop, and he spends plenty of time tinkering in the bakery. At the same time, we’re picky in finding recipes that resonate with our existing product line, and align with our core values. We think we’ve created something special and want to make sure we get it just right before we roll it out (pun intended). I think there are plenty of opportunities to grow within the gluten-free market, so right now we see the sky as the limit.

Q: How has starting in the business climate of Northern Colorado affected Canyon Bakehouse?

A: Northern Colorado is an exciting and challenging place to launch a business, and there are so many talented people that we’re able to work with day to day. There are many amazing entrepreneurial and successful companies in our own backyard, and we look to it as a resource and innovation for our own company and practices.

Q: Where do you see Canyon Bakehouse in five years?

A: Since opening our doors in 2009 we’ve continued to grow, starting in local Whole Foods Markets, to now being in more than 4,000 stores nationwide. It’s been an exciting journey. In the past year alone we’ve doubled our growth in the gluten-free bread market and have jumped to the No. 2 gluten-free bread in the natural channel. The goal of Canyon Bakehouse is to start by helping one customer at a time – someone who’s in need of healthy, gluten-free bread – to connect with them and have them fall in love with our bread. We know there’s an increasing amount of people looking for gluten-free options – whether they’re celiac or not – so we have a lot more people to reach. Right now we’re in 4,000 stores, but we’re not looking to stop until we’ve reached everyone.

– Maggie Shafer

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