by RENEE PATRICK Cascade Business News Feature Writer
Mmmm, what’s your pick? Oatmeal, lemon sugar or double chocolate cookies? Or maybe banana, cran-orange or chocolate muffins? Oh, and don’t worry if you are allergic to dairy, gluten, nuts, eggs or soy. These treats are allergen free, yet moist, flavorful and delicious.
“Our motivation for creating yummy, safe, gluten free and allergy friendly foods is personal,” said Becca Williams, owner of Red Plate Foods. After developing a severe dairy allergy following the birth of her daughter in 2008, having a scary brush with anaphylaxis and on top of that developing a gluten intolerance, Williams quickly realized the selection of store-bought dairy and gluten free desserts was extremely limited.
Sweet tooth leading the way, she used her life-long love of baking to experiment with allergen free ingredients. “The only way to share a family dessert was to prepare it at home from scratch,” she said.
“We noticed those holes in the market; things didn’t taste very good when they did meet our allergen needs,” she explained. When Becca and her husband Chell moved their family to Bend a few years ago, they knew the entrepreneurial community would be an excellent place to start a business, especially one so close to their heart and home. The Williams developed a line of cookies and muffins, and recently released cookie doughs at Newport Market.
Becca is an experienced business founder and owner, but didn’t have experience with a retail food business, so she tapped into the resources at Economic Development of Central Oregon (EDCO), “EDCO is fabulous, they have provided us with a couple of advisors that were instrumental in helping us to develop our strategy, improve our products and get into retail,” she said.
Red Plate Food products have been in local grocers and coffee shops since August. “[Our retailers] have been really great in giving us feedback as we develop the products, supporting us and allowing us to come in and demonstrate, and the community at large seems excited about local.
“This is an ideal spot to launch a business like this. Bend is a health oriented, forward thinking community. People really consider what they are eating; the need for an allergen free product exists everywhere, but focusing on the non-GMO, primarily organic ingredients are important to people here.
“Bend is a great place to test market, especially for food companies,” Becca said. “People are used to having high quality product offerings and the community is very hands on and supportive.”
Red Plate Foods will enter coffee shops in the Portland market soon and their goal is to be in retail locations in Portland, Salam and Eugene by the end of the year.
The Williams spent considerable effort sourcing their ingredients for their baked goods. “That is one of the pieces that took the longest time that I hadn’t anticipated. We source our ingredients from companies that give us an allergen statement that there is no cross contamination,” she explained. With allergens, even trace amounts of foods can have dire consequences.
Becca explained they would like to be able to test all of their ingredients in house, “One of my big goals is that we will be able to do that, for now we rely heavily on the reliability of our suppliers.”One benefit to a delicious product…no shortage of help in testing recipes. “There were quite a few batches got thrown in the trash,” she said. “But we have a wonderful neighborhood who sampled quite regularly.”
While developing the brand, and trying to decide on a name for the business Becca and Chell found themselves at a natural foods expo. “It was a sea of green, cream and brown, only a couple of booths were colorful and stood out,” she said. “We started brainstorming about what that could mean for us. How we could develop something on the shelf that really stands out? What is meaningful to us?
“The red plate was just a natural fit. It’s something very special to our family.” Back in the 1970′s, Chell’s family had a red plate that was used on special occasions. When a family member had something to celebrate like a good report card or winning a baseball game, that person was served a meal or dessert on the red plate.” Becca and Chell received their own red plate as a wedding gift and continued on the tradition with their four children.
Working with graphic designer Sonia Donahue on the logo, label and packaging design, Red Plate Foods was born and looks great on the shelf in the midst of the traditional greens and browns of health foods.
“The idea of the company is that you are allowing people to come together; people connect over food…to not be able to do that is very isolating for people with allergies.
The whole concept of the Red Plate is you are celebrating together,” Becca explained.
Red Plate Foods can be found at Backporch Coffee Roasters, Jackson’s Corner, All Mixed Up, Newport Market, Nature’s and Farmer John’s Produce. www.redplatefoods.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, 541-550-7676.