Under new ownership, this bakery continues to build its brand identity — a name consumers associate with innovative, nutritionally enhanced products.
As one of the pioneers in organic and functional baked products, Eagan, Minn.-based French Meadow Bakery capitalizes on consumers' growing interest in healthful foods. With its recent move to a larger facility, the bakery not only has greater capacity, but the enhanced capability to launch new products. Fourteen new products were introduced last year.
French Meadow opened its new facility last September, which includes a gluten-free bakery that will enable the company to strengthen its position as a supplier of quality, gluten-free baked products. A gluten-free tortilla is French Meadow's most recent new product launch.
The bakery's line of natural and organic products contains unique ingredients, such as hemp seed, cracked wheat, millet, quinoa and flax seeds, among others. Many of these ingredients provide added healthful benefits, creating what the bakery calls “performance foods.” These products contain added vitamins, minerals and other functional ingredients that reportedly help the body prevent or treat disease.
French Meadow, acquired by Rich Products Corp., Buffalo, N.Y., in July 2006, continues its founding traditions of using only certified organic grains and non-GMO ingredients that foster a sustainable environment. The bakery is USDA-certified organic; Quality Assurance International certified organic; certified gluten-free by the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO), a program of The Gluten Intolerance Group®; and certified low glycemic for diabetics by The Glycemic Research Institute®.
Staying true to its core principles
French Meadow's dedication to the production of baked products that meet a variety of dietary needs aligns with its founder's principles. Lynn Gordon started the bakery in 1985, after searching for a bread recipe that would accommodate her macrobiotic diet. The diet prohibited her from eating breads made with yeast and sugar. Gordon turned to an old-world baking technique that incorporates sprouted grains combined with a natural leavening process — one that breaks down complex carbohydrates and the glutens, rendering the bread more digestible and the nutrients more easily absorbed.
While making certified organic loaves of bread without baker's yeast provided a challenge for Gordon, she relied on the tried and true process of natural leavening.
To prepare its doughs for baking, the bakery uses a starter that dates back more than 20 years. The company mixes the starter with stone ground flour or a blend of sprouted grains that have been soaked and ground, before allowing the dough to rest overnight in a controlled environment. After resting, the dough is divided, moulded and proofed before baking.
French Meadow's sprouted products are different from its yeast-free products made from stone ground flour, notes Emily Dingmann, marketing coordinator. Sprouted products have a similar texture to conventional products for people who aren't the core organic consumer looking for yeast-free breads, she adds.
As the bakery fine-tuned its natural leavening process, it began launching a variety of innovative, nutritious breads with functional attributes. For example, one of its recent introductions, Our Daily Bread™, is yeast-free, vegan and contains no added oils or sweeteners. The soft, sprouted whole grain bread is made with CoroWise™, a plant sterol clinically proven to lower LDL cholesterol when incorporated into the daily diet.
Two other recent new product introductions include hemp tortillas and an organic wheat and sprouted grain variety. Both types are made with sprouted living grains. The sprouting process reportedly increases vitamin content and improves digestibility. The hemp tortillas are made with hemp seed, flax seed and organic pumpkin seeds; contain no added oils or sweeteners; are yeast-free, vegan, high in whole grain fiber and protein; and offer a rich source of omega 3 and 6.
Combining two plants into one
The bakery has come a long way from its meager beginnings in Gordon's kitchen to its new 64,000-sq.-ft. bakery in Eagan. French Meadow had been operating out of two smaller facilities that were, in total, one-third the size of its current building. Both plants had reached capacity. “We saw an opportunity to reduce overhead cost and combine the management team into one,” says Bruce Kasten, operations manager.
Kasten joined French Meadow in April 2008. He has been with Rich Products Corp. for 35 years. “When I got here, there were no systems in place,” Kasten says. “I used Excel to track total labor costs and efficiencies. My job during relocation was to make sure the bakery kept running,” Kasten says. “It was far more complicated than combining two facilities into one. We built up inventory and then took a two-week window to move each line.”
One of the biggest needs the bakery had prior to opening the new facility was space, notes Mike Simon, senior team leader. New equipment was added as part of the expansion, including two additional proofers, three rack ovens and a lift for the mixer.
Breads account for about 70 percent of the bakery's production; sweetgoods make up the remaining 30 percent. Production areas are segregated between kosher-pareve for bread manufacturing and kosher-dairy for sweetgoods. Much attention is paid to keeping kosher-pareve and kosher-dairy equipment separated. Everything is labeled and placed under lock and key, unless it is unique to one area or another, Simon notes.
The gluten-free production area is completely closed off from other areas of the plant, operates with a dedicated group of associates and maintains separate equipment and ingredients. All gluten-free finished products are tested for gluten before they are shipped. Since the bakery follows GFCO certification, which requires a limit of 10 ppm of gluten, its gluten-free products are well below the Codex Alimentarius limit of 20 ppm that governs European standards. When the FDA makes its final ruling, it is expected to follow the less stringent European standards.
The facility's raw materials are automatically reordered when inventory stock reaches a certain level, which has improved efficiency. “We have increased throughput by 12 percent since the new facility opened,” Simon says.
Strongly connected to its values
French Meadow prides itself on its dedicated workforce, all of whom are considered associates. Although the new facility is more than 13 miles away from the former locations, 100 percent of the associates made the move, Kasten notes. The company makes every effort to accommodate its associates via scheduling to ease the burden of commuting to work, Simon adds.
Just as the bakery places great value on its associates, it also values its core customer base, which appreciates the level of quality and innovation that go into each product. Still, the company strives to reach beyond the traditional organic/natural customer by educating more consumers about the nutritional and functional benefits of its healthful products.
In the meantime, French Meadow will continue to develop its line of gluten-free products as well as its other functional breads and sweetgoods, many of which meet the needs of those with special dietary needs.
French Meadow Bakery
Headquarters: Eagan, Minn.
Parent company: Rich Products Corp., Buffalo, N.Y.
Web site: www.frenchmeadow.com
Management: Bruce Kasten, operations manager; Mike Simon, senior team leader, operations; Beth Naffziger, marketing manager; and Emily Dingmann, marketing coordinator
Product lines: Performance breads-Hemp bread, Woman's bread™, Men's bread™, Organic Healthseed™ spelt bread, Our Daily bread™; organic specialty breads-spelt, Kamut and brown rice and whole wheat; organic artisan rounds-flax and sunflower, summer, European sourdough rye, whole grain rye, rye with sunflower seeds, rye with flax seed and salt-free rye; tortillas, including hemp, wheat and sprouted grain, and 6 in. and 10 in. Fat Flush™ tortillas; dinner rolls-healthy hemp and organic ciabatta; bagels-hemp, organic sprouted and organic spelt; all natural New York style cheesecake; and gluten-free sweetgoods-fudge brownies, chocolate chip cookie dough, chocolate chip cookies and tortillas
Plant Size: 64,000 sq. ft.
Certifications: USDA-certified organic; Quality Assurance International certified organic; certified gluten-free by the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO), a program of The Gluten Intolerance Group®; and certified low glycemic for diabetics by The Glycemic Research Institute®