Family diet sparks niche food business

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) – Try walking down a grocery aisle or opening a restaurant menu without finding foods that claim to be “gluten-free.”

Gluten, the protein compound found in wheat and other starchy grains has become the target among those testing out the latest wave of niche food products. For Jennifer Wiese’s family in Noblesville, gluten-free has been a way of life for nearly a decade.

Wiese – a wife and mother of four boys – began her family’s transition to gluten free foods nine years ago after learning that a gluten-free diet could help her oldest son deal with autism.

“We tried it for 3 months and it was amazing,” Wiese says. “The effects that it had on him were very impactful – he was more alert, more engaging, more focused and had better sleep.”

At the time, Wiese admits the gluten-free food options on the market were “just not good.” The common complaints are that gluten free foods have a cardboard taste and texture and are not cost-effective. The well-documented difficulty in baking gluten-free is without gluten, baked goods tend not to rise very well, and since gluten holds on to water, gluten-free foods tend to be dry.

Wiese enlisted her mother’s help in the kitchen to whip up gluten-free foods her family would enjoy. They hit a turning point with a recipe her mother created for chocolate chip cookies, which incorporated five different types of flour.

“It took years, literally years, to come up with recipes that had just the right combination of taste and texture so that you couldn’t tell that it was gluten free,” Wiese says. “All you knew was it was really good.”

Word spread around Noblesville that her gluten-free creations were more than tolerable, they were downright delicious. But before Wiese took the plunge to create a legitimate business, she spent two winters traveling to downtown Indianapolis every Saturday morning for the Winter Market, letting people test her cookies and cakes. It was affirmation that her gluten-free baked goods were worth starting her own business.

In January 2010, Bee Free was born. Their first account was with Green Bean Delivery. At that time, Wiese was baking everything in a rented kitchen in downtown Noblesville. Bee Free has since grown to four commercial kitchens in Indianapolis, Chicago and Nashville. The products can be found in Nature’s Farm stores in Castleton and Greenwood, Earth Fare grocery stores in Noblesville and Carmel and in the company’s online store.

“I did not get into this originally to start a business, I got into this to feed my family,” Wiese said. “I’m a mom who just wants to do good; I want to feed my family good food and I want to make other people’s lives a little easier who are trying to go down that gluten-free journey.”

How to go gluten-free
Gluten-free diets are a way to treat those with Celiac disease, an auto-immune disorder that affects children and adults. The concept of eliminating gluten from one’s diet has become the latest niche nutrition craze, even among people who haven’t been instructed to eliminate gluten by a doctor. In a study published by the American Journal of Gastroenterology, 1.6 million people in the United States are on a gluten-free diet even though they haven’t been diagnosed with Celiac disease.

If you are interested in trying a gluten-free regimen, the Mayo Clinic has a simple guide to making the transition.