Paving the Way in the Free-From Movement

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Mar 30, 2015

How does a food company become tops in a product category that practically didn't exist or wasn't defined 10 years ago? Ask Joel Warady, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Enjoy Life Foods. His company has been on a mission to make great-tasting, allergy-free, gluten-free cookies, bars and grab-and-go foods (in a safe production environment) that nearly everyone can eat freely without worry. "We take allergens very seriously," Warady says, noting that despite containing no artificial ingredients, Enjoy Life's products taste "really good."

Warady will speak on Enjoy Life's history, strategy and recently expanded outlook, April 28 at the Food Leaders Summit, at Chicago's Westin River North.

A Chicago area manufacturer in the better-for-you food sector, Enjoy Life Foods in fact helped create what's now called the free-from product category 13 years ago with its non-GMO items. It's hard to believe, but what was once a miniscule category the free-from segment is already projected to be a whopping $12-billion market.

Enjoy Life Foods quickly began to dominate the free-from space, growing its Enjoy Life brand to 41 SKUs, with a presence in more than 35,000 retail locations in North America. It was the first bakery to gain gluten-free certification from the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO).

Co-founded in 2001 by CEO Scott Mandell, the company's roots can be traced to a business plan, actually developed by two bankers as a class project while working on their MBAs at Northwestern University. They had no customers, no products, no money and no expertise, Warady recalls. "Today, we're recognized as the number-three brand in the gluten free snacks and cookie market, and the number-one brand in allergy-friendly cookies," he says. "We cater to more than 130 million North American consumers who live their daily lives with Celiac disease, food allergies and food intolerances."

In fact, it takes about two years to develop each item because it has to taste good, he says. "That's the most difficult thing, especially as the taste requirements have been raised significantly over the last few years. Also, the nutrition demand is much higher now than ever before.

Enjoy Life Foods has experienced year-over-year growth of 40% for three consecutive years, from 2012 to 2014, thus becoming a high-profile acquisition target. In February 2015, it was acquired by Mondelez International as a way to enter the fast-growing, on-trend Free From snack food world. Mondelez says it will operate Enjoy Life Foods as a separate, wholly-owned subsidiary to continue to nurture its entrepreneurial spirit, but will provide back-office support and access to its global resources.

To see the entire Food Leaders Summit three-day program and to register, see www.TheFoodLeadersSummit.com.

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