Because it’s National Celiac Awareness Month and it is my mission to help the gluten free community eat healthfully AND happily, I thought it appropriate to interview someone I believe to be a thought leader in the gluten free food industry. That someone is Mary Waldner of Mary’s Gone Crackers. I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions over the phone and was pleased to hear her thoughts on nutrition as they perfectly align with my beliefs.
If you have already read my review of Mary’s Gone Cracker’s crackers line, you know it was a glowing review. Since doing the review, I have had a chance to try Mary’s Gone Crackers Sticks & Twigs and love Cookies as well, both of which adhere to the same nutrition philosophy and gluten free manufacturing processes.
After sharing her gluten free cracker recipes with friends and family and getting a strong positive response, Mary and her husband and co-founder, Dale Rodrigues, started planning to bring the product to market in 1999. For the next five years while continuing to make her crackers by hand, they learned about the food industry, developed a business plan and started buying the right equipment for making the product on a larger scale. In 2004, Mary’s Gone Crackers was incorporated and production started.
Mary and I spoke over the phone and I asked her the following questions:
Q: What marketing/communication vehicle was the biggest step to raising awareness about your product(s)? When did the true a-ha sales moment happen?
A: Our marketing strategy focused on trial and awareness, because once people try our products they like them and want to know how they can get more. We began trialing our products with celiac support groups, but also with the health-minded community, people who didn’t have to eat gluten free but appreciated the clean ingredient statement of our products. Growth happened quickly and we have experienced 40-50% growth each year since 2004. However, 2006-2007 was when health-conscious eating really started to take off, which certainly helped with product sales.
Q: Other than taste and being gluten free, what product attributes do your customers love most?
A: Customers love the taste. That’s always number 1. Next, they appreciate the whole ingredients used, which make for a truly clean ingredient statement. We hear this from both gluten free and non-gluten free customers.
Q: Your products are organic, Kosher, GMO-free, certified gluten free, dairy free, allergy friendly and contain no hydrogenated oils . Were all of these standards in place from the very start, or did they build over time?
A: To start, our nutrition standards included being gluten free, organic and utilizing whole ingredients. With our cookies came our vegan standard, which also helped us become allergy friendly, as we could no longer use milk and eggs. With our commitment to using only organic ingredients and my personal belief in accessing ingredients only from animals that are grass fed or free range, we realized we couldn’t find a national source for milk products and eggs that met these standards. Conceptually, this made it very easy for us to make vegan products, but logistically there was a learning curve to making products that met these standards.
Q: What’s the story behind the “love” in your love Cookies?
A: At first we wanted to call them “Mary’s Gone Kookies,” to follow in the foot steps of the name of our crackers. However, we quickly realized that this would dilute the brand that our fans have come to know us by. It also begged the question, what would we call our future products? We knew we wanted to put an adjective before the word cookies, so I was asked the question, what’s in these cookies that makes them special? I thought about this question alot and always came up with the answer of love. I put alot of love into these cookies.
Q: How have the cookies been received?
A: They are doing well. Our cookies are not as obviously unique as our crackers and Sticks & Twigs and so we have to do more education about the health benefits and why customers should buy them. They have been well received.
Q: Where do you want to see the gluten free food industry go?
A: I went for almost 40 years before being diagnosed and didn’t feel well for a very long time. As a result, I led a healthy lifestyle and ate a healthful diet. When we started Mary’s Gone Crackers, I wanted the company to be a leader in the marketplace with respect to nutrition. I would like to see the gluten free industry move away from refined flours. Those with celiac disease have to start from scratch with respect to their diet and going gluten free, so why not make it a healthful diet. I want people to understand that they don’t have to choose between taste and health. All they need to do is give themselves some time for their taste buds to make the transition from enjoying processed foods to enjoying wholesome foods.
Q: Where do you want to see Mary’s Gone Crackers go?
A: Our hope is to use the same nutrition philosophy and manufacturing practices to create new products–perhaps bars, granola, breads and mixes. While I am testing new products all of the time, we will wait and watch the success of our current product lines grow before introducing any new products. I will say that we won’t ever use enriched flours and ingredients in our products. I believe we should get nutrients from natural foods, not by enriching packaged foods. While my crackers are nutritious, they are not the end-all to a healthful diet. They are just one part.
Per Mary’s suggestion, please allow yourself the time to make the transition from enjoying highly processed foods to enjoying more natural foods. Your mind, body and taste buds will thank you.
And I, along with many in the gluten free community, thank Mary and the whole Mary’s Gone Crackers team for sticking to these nutrition principles and providing us with wholesome, convenience foods.
Disclosure: I have received complimentary samples of Mary’s Gone Crackers products. I was not paid to conduct this interview or write this blog post.
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