At Food & Restaurant Marketing, we are obsessed with understanding the type of insights that allow brands to break through a crowded category like the gluten-free industry. This 3.2 billion dollar industry (Statista 2016) demands brands to take unique approaches to positioning their products. With almost 30% of all adults in the U.S. trying to avoid gluten, we wanted to talk with someone who is intimately involved with the industry to discover insights about this ever-growing audience and what drives them to consider gluten-free products.
Blends by Orly
Orly Gottesman, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate, discovered her passion for baking while at culinary school. During that same time, Orly’s husband Josh discovered he had celiac disease. Josh, who grew up in the baking and restaurant business, thought his life was over. He’d never be able to enjoy a bagel again. Orly saw an opportunity to focus her studies on gluten-free and worked with the head chef of the baking program to conduct an independent study around gluten-free baking.
From there, Orly set out to create the highest quality gluten-free flour blends for those that love baking. Blends by Orly launched in August 2014 and since that time, Orly has been navigating her brand through a rapidly growing industry.
I recently sat down with Orly over Skype to learn more about her business and customers.
AB: What have you learned about your current audience that made you take a different look at how you thought about your brand?
OG: First, we learned that this is a very female-focused product. For a demo, we would bake a whole bunch of product, mostly cookies. Women would love them and say, “oh wow that’s a really great idea to make cookies with this blend.” Men would come over and say, “where can I buy these?” Then we’d tell them that actually the product is the flour and you actually have to bake them. They’d look at me and say, “oh, I don’t bake.” Even a man who had three children with celiac walked up to me, loved the cookies and said, “not for me.”
I find that I’m wasting my time talking to men. Even the buyers at supermarkets, the female buyers always get it more than the male buyers, unless they are a chef.
The other key element I’ve found is that the blends don’t sell as well in cities or densely populated areas like Manhattan. Kitchens are tiny and people generally won’t bake if they feel like they don’t have enough space in their kitchen. We sell much better in suburban areas. People that do a lot of cooking and entertaining are really our sweet spot in terms of a target audience. Also, it’s a higher priced product, so it’s a given that we are seeing higher income customers interested in our product.
AB: How large is the gluten-free business and how many people suffer from celiac disease?
OG: 1% of the total population suffer from celiac disease. Many of my customers actually don’t have celiac disease. They do, though, find themselves sensitive to gluten or have other autoimmune diseases. Gluten can cause inflammation, so many people get off gluten to support an anti-inflammatory diet. The good thing about my blends is that they provide options for dietary restrictions like a sugar-free, gluten-free diet.
AB: Any opportunities or feedback from your customers on new products?
OG: I have recently launched a kosher baking mix for Challah in three different flavors: traditional, chocolate chip, and poppyseed & onion. That was very specific and the opportunity was clear in terms of bringing a new product to the market that doesn’t exist.
I’m also thinking a lot about distributing a pre-baked gluten free bread product. Blends are great for a very specific audience. If I’m going to expand, I think it’ll have to be with ready-made products. I don’t want to come out with just another cake mix.
AB: How are you attracting the audience that is considering a gluten-free diet?
OG: We are beginning to send nutritionists promotional material. Nutritionists are the first ones a doctor sends them to if they need to alter their diet. For example, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia and I learned I was eating too much sugar and gluten. These nutritionists will recommend easing up on the gluten. They aren’t going to recommend trying a gluten- free brownie mix. They’re going to recommend finding a wholesome gluten-free flour like one of my blends. Some of the specialty markets we are in will have nutritionists on site, so we talk to them and let them know about our product. We’re starting to consider the right time to put together a plan for marketing.
AB: What was your initial strategy for distribution and how has that changed over time?
OG: Starting out it was “the chicken or the egg” scenario. We started out doing all the distribution ourselves. Obviously, you’re not going to find a distributor to take you on initially if you don’t have accounts, and then a lot of stores don’t want to take you unless you have a distributor. Our initial strategy was to just pound the pavement and go to stores that would allow us to distribute directly to them. It was truly door to door sales and cold calling.
Once we had enough stores with our product, we then decided to go to the distributors and show them what we accomplished and why we are a great product that people need. We got a distributor on board with us and focused only on New York and New Jersey. We took this same model of starting out by self-distributing in Chicago and then moved to a local distributor there as well as on the West Coast. But it’s a very long process.
AB: What’s the biggest challenge you are facing right now with distribution?
OG: We realized we really need brokers. We were a little late in the game here, but we’re learning fast that the brokers are the ones who get your product moving off the shelves and keep the orders coming.
If you’re interested in learning more about Blends by Orly, please check out her website where you can learn more about her gluten-free flour blends and order product: http://blendsbyorly.com/