Prepared Foods talks with Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer for Enjoy Life Foods, Schiller Park, Ill. Founded in 2001, this Chicago-area company now offers more than 40 types of allergy-friendly and gluten-free cookies, chocolate, snack bars and savory snacks. Mondelez International, Deerfield, Ill., acquired Enjoy Life in February 2015. Enjoy Life remains a wholly owned subsidiary under the direction of founder and CEO Scott Mandell.
Prepared Foods: Congratulations on your Mondelez relationship. How does the deal benefit both companies?
Joel Warady: We bring a lot to the table. In essence, we were the pioneer in the allergen-friendly category. There were lots of gluten-free products but not offerings that were free from the top eight allergens. From day one, we decided that would be our point of distinction as we entered new categories with great tasting products.
Companies such as Kellogg, Kraft, Mondelez, Unilever and others looked at this [allergen-friendly] category. As the market grew, they wanted to better understand how to develop these types of products. Because it’s our core competency, Enjoy Life became an acquisition target.
We have always operated on a shoestring budget so we will appreciate Mondelez International’s expertise in manufacturing and food science, which complement our unique product skills. In effect, it’s the best of both worlds: our knowledge and their resources.
Bill Monaghan heads up our quality assurance and research and development teams. However, I’ll note that we use a hybrid model to develop new products. Marketing and R&D lead our innovation and ideas pipeline and then we contract out the recipe development. Afterward, we commercialize new products internally.
PF: Please tell us about your product line. What’s new?
Warady: The line includes cookies, snack bars, cereals, confections, baking chocolate, nut-free trail mixes and savory snacks. We have a new line of five unique baking mixes coming to the shelf this June. Each serving contains 5g of protein as well as shelf-stable probiotics, which activate once they’re consumed and hit the stomach. There’s enough probiotic bacteria to promote immune health. We felt as though this is a major upgrade within the prepared packaged products market. It makes it an even better-for-you baking mix that meets all our allergen-friendly standards.
PF: Tell us more about the market overall, which has certainly grown.
Warady: When we first started the company, allergens were not even on the radar from a retailer’s standpoint. Consumers also weren’t hearing much about the topic, although we knew it was a growing problem.
Starting in 2010 and 2011, we noticed higher overall awareness of food allergies and more discussion about consumers diagnosed with these issues. Even so, we think a lot of the push has more to do with a cleaner ingredient deck. People want better-for-you products and they are connecting with our ingredient list. You also have those who give up dairy or soy, by choice.
Meanwhile, retailers are getting the message. One example involves Aldi, which started stocking organic produce. We also see large supermarkets expanding their allergen-friendly offerings for the everyday shopper.
PF: Can you tell us something about Enjoy Life’s ingredient formulation work?
Warady: There certainly has been an evolution of products in the gluten-free and allergy friendly category. Our products were primarily rice based from 2002 to 2004. Then we moved away from rice over to sorghum flour. Yet, over time, we found spikes of soy in the sorghum. That would not have been an issue if we were simply gluten free as compared to allergen friendly.
Today, we primarily use ingredients such buckwheat, millet and quinoa. Obviously, our baking mixes need to have some protein and we’ve found teff to be a great flour source. For the first time, we’re also using an agal (algae-based) protein.
These are new ingredients for us. They didn’t exist years ago or no one was talking about them. I’ll note that we also attend several international shows to see what might be trending for ingredients and what we can incorporate as it makes sense.
PF: As the allergen-friendly market grows, do you have many more suppliers entering the market?
Warady: Most certainly. There are more suppliers addressing the market—plus more are paying attention to us because we’ve grown. Suppliers are more willing to create an ingredient for us because our volumes are such that it warrants it.
We also look for non-GMO verified suppliers. Actually, our suppliers also have to be kosher and halal certified as well, so we have some pretty stringent requirements. That said, we have primary and secondary suppliers for every ingredient and we’re constantly validating suppliers around the world.
PF: Speaking of non-GMO, Enjoy Life earned its non-GMO certification in 2006. As more consumers and retail customers become aware of the topic, does it help your ingredient supplier discussions?
Warady: We see more non-GMO suppliers available today than years ago. We’re still educating many more about why it’s important and how they can take steps to earn that certification. When we first went to that positioning, there was only one of our suppliers, an organic honey company, that already was non-GMO certified. Since then, we’ve helped other suppliers earn their validation.
PF: Do you have any advice for manufacturers entering your category?
Warady: First, as more competitors come into the space with packaging and products, I’d note that you should not claim to be “allergy free.” A product cannot be entirely free from allergens. Instead, we say that we’re “allergy friendly.”
Secondly, I’d emphasize the role of food science and taste. We want our products to be best in class. I’d say don’t make a product if it’s not going to taste great. Otherwise, it hurts everyone in the category.
For years, we’ve been interested in a fresh bread. However, making a great-tasting bread without egg and gluten is hard to do. We’ve found some great egg replacers that work well but—in the end—great taste is important and we won’t sacrifice.
Enjoy Life Joins Mondelez
New Year’s resolutions? Consumers talk about diets. Companies talk about adding size.
And that’s just what happened in February when Mondelez International Inc., Deerfield, Ill., acquired Enjoy Life Foods. Officials said the transaction was a simultaneous sign-and-close deal. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Enjoy Life, Schiller Park, Ill., offers more than 40 products including cookies, chocolate, snack bars, and savory snacks that are allergy-friendly and gluten-free. Enjoy Life’s products are free from the eight most common allergens – wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish and shellfish – which together account for about 90% of all food allergies.
“As we focus on continuing to drive growth in snacking, the acquisition of Enjoy Life Foods is a great strategic fit for us,” said Mark Clouse, chief growth officer at Mondelez International. “The Enjoy Life brand expands our portfolio into faster growing, on-trend, ‘better-for-you’ areas and provides an excellent platform to make these delicious offerings available to consumers with ‘free-from’ needs or simply looking for healthy-lifestyle options, both in the United States and beyond.”
Officials say the $12 billion “free-from” market in the United States is large and growing at strong double-digit rates1, driven by an increasing incidence of food allergies and food intolerances as well as consumers adopting “free from” as a healthy-lifestyle option.
“Enjoy Life offers an excellent brand promise that’s trusted by their loyal and engaged consumers,” Clouse said. “We’re excited about the extraordinary potential of this business and the entrepreneurial team leading it. We have a great opportunity to share our expertise, learn from their experience and work to accelerate Enjoy Life’s growth in this exciting consumer space.”
Scott Mandell is Enjoy Life Foods’ CEO and founder.
“We’re thrilled!,” he said. “As we combine our great brand, market leadership and passion for our consumers with the global resources, scale and marketing expertise of Mondelez International, I’m confident this relationship will enable us to reach even greater heights.”
Mandell and other members of the Enjoy Life leadership team will continue to lead the company. Mondelez International said it will operate Enjoy Life Foods as a separate, wholly owned subsidiary while it provides back-office support and access to global resources.
Mondelez International, Inc. (NASDAQ: MDLZ) is a global snacking leader with 2014 revenue of $34 billion and distribution in 165 countries. It is a world leader in biscuits, chocolate, gum, candy, coffee and powdered beverages, with billion-dollar brands such as Oreo, LU and Nabisco biscuits; Cadbury, Cadbury Dairy Milk and Milka chocolate; Trident gum; Jacobs coffee and Tang powdered beverages.