The oats milled by Avena Foods are much more than they first appear. They are a foodstuff of unrivalled purity that has opened the door for sufferers of Celiac disease and gluten intolerance to manage their disease while enjoying appetizing and nutritious oat products.
Avena Foods was the brain child of a group of oat growers who had a vision that their crop could be more than a commodity, sold in its raw form. The company was one initiative undertaken by the farmers in an effort to build a value chain for their oats that would increase the crop’s overall profitability. “The original idea of Avena Foods and the first discussions of what the business would look like started in 2006,” says CEO Maryellen Carlson. “We weren’t actually into production until 2008.”
Though Avena is a relatively new venture, important gains have already been made. At present, Avena’s oats are exported throughout Canada, the United States and into Europe where they are purchased as ingredients by food manufacturers. Though the majority of Avena’s business is behind the scenes, as a industrial supplier, the company has also moved into the retail sector. Under the brand name Only Oats, Avena sells a line of products across Canada in groceries, health food stores and specialty shops. To find a retailer near you that sells Only Oats products, visit the website, www.onlyoats.com. . The Only Oats line includes base products like steel cut oats, quick oat flakes, whole oat flour, oat bran and rolled oats, as well as ready-made mixes including oatmeal cookie mix, whole oat pancake mix, and chocolate and cinnamon spice muffin mixes.
“This is where we are today,” says Carlson, “tomorrow holds lots of promise for this company in our view.”
Carlson makes the point that oats are a nutritious food product full of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals with numerous documented health benefits, including lowering cholesterol and managing blood sugars. However, it is important to note that Avena’s oats are special. People who suffer from Celiac disease or gluten intolerance must follow a strict diet or suffer a range of negative health outcomes from gastrointestinal discomfort to something as serious as cancer. Grains such as wheat, durum, barley and rye contain gluten, which makes whole categories of food containing grain based ingredients off limits for those who are Celiac or gluten intolerant.
Oats in and of themselves do not contain gluten. But, in the process of being grown, transported and processed oats regularly come into contact with other grains that contaminate the oats with gluten. “It is virtually impossible to get pure oats in a conventional farm and mill setting,” says Carlson. “We aim to get as close to absolute purity as possible.” How can Avena ensure their oats are free from gluten contamination? They have between 20 and 30 growers spread across the Canadian prairies, principally in Saskatchewan, who work with the company to produce pure oats. These growers follow a set of rigorous protocols through the plant life cycle, and when the crop is harvested, cleaned and transported. The Avena Foods milling facility in Regina is used solely to process gluten free oats. All Avena products are inspected and the final product is tested using the world’s leading technology, the R5-ELISA gluten detection test to ensure it is safe for those who suffer from Celiac Disease.
The result of these efforts are oat products containing less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, comfortably beneath the recognized standard for gluten free in Europe and the United States of 20 ppm. “We guarantee our products will contain no more than 10 ppm,” says Carlson. For individuals with Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance, Avena’s products provide a disease management solution that is versatile and nutritious.
Because gluten intolerance and Celiac disease do not discriminate based on borders, Carlson sees a bright future for Avena in markets they have not yet entered, including Asia, and South America. Europe and North America are the logical first points of entry for Avena because diseases like Celiac are actively diagnosed and there is a pre-existing knowledge of Celiac disease and gluten intolerance in these regions. “Presently, we are targeting markets where the medical community has identified gluten as an issue for a segment of the population,” Carlson explained.
Though Avena Foods entered regions where Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance is known and a pre-existing market for their specialty goods exists, this does not mean the process was easy, or that success was guaranteed. Avena had an important partner helping it to grow and take its products to market. “We have a great relationship with STEP,” says Carlson. “They have great resources and programs and we have tried to take advantage of as many of those as possible.” She added that STEP has worked so closely with Avena that STEP has seemed at times more like an extension of Avena’s own marketing and sales team rather than a separate entity. “There were tradeshows that STEP invited us to attend and it was so early in the company’s life that we didn’t feel we were quite ready,” said Carlson, “so STEP represented our interests at these shows. They’ve passed information on to potential partners and they’ve brought back contacts for us. It’s comforting to work with an organization like STEP that knows our business so well that they can work with us in this integrated capacity.”
For more information on Avena Foods Ltd., please visit their website or contact:
Avena Foods Ltd.
Telephone: (306) 757-3663
Photograph and article courtesy of Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP).
For more information on Saskatchewan’s trade and export industry, please visit the STEP website or check out the most recent issue of the STEP Global Ventures Magazine.