A young but fast-growing Schenectady business is jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon with a little help from friends, family and strangers on the Internet.
Gatherer’s Granola is looking to launch three additional products to its current line of granolas. They will be certified gluten-free granolas made from local, non-genetically modified ingredients.
Such certifications are expensive, though. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the company led by young entrepreneur Alessandro Gerbini turned to the Internet for help. In particular, Gatherer’s has launched a campaign to raise $15,000 through Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding website that raises money for creative projects. It has grown in popularity over the past several years, drawing projects dreamed up by big names like TV host Whoopi Goldberg, Veronica Mars producer Rob Thomas and Scrubs actor Zach Braff.
“Kickstarter is a really interesting way to test the waters to see who would even be interested in the ideas we come up with,” said Gerbini. “It gives us an opportunity to see whether or not our ideas have any legs with the general public.”
Gatherer’s doesn’t have the name recognition of others using Kickstarter, but the site thrives more on creativity. A project creator sets a minimum fundraising goal and a deadline. If that goal is not met by the deadline, then no funds are collected. Anyone can invest in a project, but the only return they see is in rewards like custom t-shirts or one-of-a-kind experiences like a cameo in a film.
With just seven days to go in its 30-day campaign, the company has raised more than $14,000 of the $15,000 needed to print new bags and get needed certifications. It expected to meet its goal Friday.
More than 210 backers have pledged anywhere from $1 to $300 or more. Prizes include exclusive recipe books, custom-designed batches of granola, mascot buttons, custom t-shirts, baseball caps, oven mitts, chef hats, aprons and chef jackets.
“I would say we know just over half the people who have backed us,” said Gerbini. “The rest, we don’t know by name. Some come from the Capital Region, some are from outside the area and outside the country. About a quarter of the people who have backed us are outside of the area that we sell and have probably never had our product.”
So why gluten-free and why now?
Gerbini said that for a long time, granola lovers with gluten sensitivities have had few methods of satisfying their crunchy cravings. A handful of wholesalers have gone out of their way to create gluten-free granola lines, like Udi’s Artisan Granola in Colorado or Bakery on Main in Connecticut. Additionally, the Internet has its own collection of make-your-own granolas for the gluten intolerant.
But his will be the first-ever “truly delicious certified gluten-free granola on the market,” he said.
The trick is finding the right bonding agent to replace gluten that adequately holds ingredients together. Other granolas have replaced the use of oats altogether, which can become cross-contaminated when grown in rotation with wheat or during distribution or processing. Gatherer’s will use the Kickstarter funds, and an additional $10,000 of its own capital, to purchase certified gluten-free ingredients that are made in facilities with no possible cross-contamination from wheat.
Gatherer’s always was planning on introducing more products to its current line of three granolas — Chipmunk’s Choice (peanut butter, almonds and maple syrup), Squirrel Bait (pecans, maple syrup and toasted coconut) and Fox’s Fancy (apple, spices and honey).
The company started just three years ago after Gerbini brought some of his mother’s granola to college and it was snatched up in no time by friends. It moved from Albany to the Broadway Commerce Park in Schenectady last year, added employees, and expanded its product lines to 10 states.
“We’ve been expanding so fast that we haven’t been able to legitimize new products,” said Gerbini. “About 10 months ago we looked around the bakery and realized we had no place to put them. Since then, we’ve grown 24 percent a month in the volume of product we’ve sold.”
Luckily, Gatherer’s had leased a building in the park that included an option to lease an additional 3,000 feet of space, in which it has since expanded.
“Gluten-free became obvious to us really when it first became popular to diagnose about two years ago,” said Gerbini. “That’s when we started having our customers ask us, ‘Is this gluten-free?’ After hearing that regularly, we put a plan in motion to come up with these products.”
The new gluten-free granolas will use an eclectic mix of ingredients.
Bee’s Knees will be a mix of pistachios, walnuts, orange blossom and local honey. “If you don’t like this flavor there’s something seriously wrong with you,” says Gerbini in an update video posted to his Kickstarter page Thursday.
Turtle Tracks will be a mix of dark chocolate, pecans and cranberries. “It’s incredible,” he said. “I’ve been having it for breakfast for weeks.”
Badger’s Best will use dark chocolate, quinoa flakes and coconut. “This one is really interesting,” he said. “We’ve been meaning to use ancient grains for a while now and quinoa’s a great one because it is a nice, whole protein. I was never a quinoa fan, though. It took me a long time to be won over. But after six iterations of test batches, we got it properly toasted and it is quite delicious.”