For years, gluten-free bakers and those with special diets had limited choices for flour substitutes.
There was one American brand that dominated grocery store shelves and little else. However, the options for those needing or wanting to bake with gluten-free, keto-friendly and vegan ingredients have grown in recent years, thanks to a partnership between Pilling Foods and Niagara College’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre.
Together, the Orangeville-based, certified gluten-free baking ingredient producer and the CFWI Innovation Centre research team created and marketed Pilling Foods’ Good Eats Gluten-Free Bakers Blend Replacement Flour in regular and chocolate flavours. And in the process, they’ve given consumers an alternative made closer to home.
“Now we have a Canadian version, a different version created by Niagara College,” says Kasia Pilling, Pilling Foods’ director of sales.
Pilling is quick to point out that neither version of Bakers Blend would exist without the work of the research team, which includes students. The partnership came to be in 2018 when Pilling Foods was looking to create a signature product for the business. A client, who’d worked with the College on its own product development, recommended the company connect with the CFWI Innovation Centre.
“It’s a very creative team, knowledgeable. The power is the students behind it. They’re learning and we believe they’re very proud of seeing this product on shelves and their involvement in it.”
– Kasia Pilling, Director of Sales, Pilling Food
“They came up with the recipe and ingredient mixture quite quickly and we were able to list both products with grocery stores to put on their shelves,” Pilling said. “It’s a very creative team, knowledgeable. The power is the students behind it. They’re learning and we believe they’re very proud of seeing this product on shelves and their involvement in it.”
The research team developed three prototypes for Bakers Blend with the winner chosen based on performance and taste.
As thanks, Pilling Foods gave credit to Niagara College on its packaging.
“Any product Niagara College creates, we’ll always put that on the packaging,” Pilling said. “It’s acknowledgement and respect. We’re not going to take credit for something we haven’t done. It was 100% Niagara College and we’re very proud of the fact we worked together.”
The relationship between the College and Pilling Foods continued after the creation of Bakers Blend. Next came the marketing piece, and a partnership with the Business & Commercialization Solutions team to help the company determine current and projected market trends in the gluten-free and health food market. It also provided Pilling Foods with a collection of content and a detailed manual outlining a customized marketing strategy.
Working with the College was easy, Pilling notes, because both research teams provided clear, actionable steps throughout the process that were easy for the company to adopt. As a result, Bakers Blend is on a trajectory to become one of Pilling Foods’ top sellers, with growing interest from major grocery chains and distribution planned to restaurants and hospitals.
In addition, Pilling Foods has also worked with the CFWI Innovation Centre on an egg replacer already in retail stores and a pizza dough mix that will start shipping this year.
That has Pilling keen to work with the College again on other projects, including expanding the brand to overseas and U.S. markets.
“It sounds ambitious but we have a market in the United Kingdom and the States, and we would like to discuss this with Niagara College, and combine the power of Niagara College and Pilling Foods,” Pilling says. “Niagara College got to know us. They listened. That was the turning point. We have many more projects.”