Friday, May 8, 2009

Interview: Scott Mandell - CEO of Enjoy Life Foods

I recently had the pleasure of talking with the CEO and Founder of a wonderful company who caters to Gluten Free consumers, Scott Mandell of Enjoy Life Foods. Enjoy Life Foods was founded in 1999 after Scott developed a business plan as part of an MBA course at Northwestern. The original intent was to develop allergy-free baking mixes but after some research was changed to ready-to-eat products. The idea came from a classmate and future business partner whose mother had food allergies. This idea was really before it's time back in the late 90s. Only a few companies were out there making Gluten Free food and none that were completely free of all the top allergens. Enjoy Life was and continues to be a pioneer in this industry.

The Chicago-based company was officially launched in 2001 and since that time has grown to offer nearly 30 products. They opened a brand new dedicated facility in 2006 that is 40,000 square feet (roughly 5 times as big as Whole Foods Gluten Free Bakehouse). If they wanted to they could make about 100,000 snicker doodle cookies in a 24 hour shift. At this facility, they test all their products down to 5 PPM Gluten (the proposed FDA ruling is 20 PPM). In 2007 and again in 2008, Enjoy Life was named to Inc. 500 fastest growing companies in the USA. Revenue growth over the previous 3 years is in the 800% area. The company scored in the top 400 (out of 500) on those lists but were in the top 10 for food companies. Quite impressive indeed.
Enjoy Life offers the following great products which are not only Gluten Free but also free from the top 8 food allergens (as defined by the FDA); wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish or shellfish. Their products are also soy free, dairy free, nut free and casein free. Dang, what is left? They key ingredient in most of their products is sorghum. Early recipes contained rice as the main ingredient but the company quickly discovered that grainy rice texture often associated with Gluten Free baked goods. Sorghum quickly replaced rice and the rest is history.

I spoke briefly with Scott about the possibility of Enjoy Life making cookies for the Girl Scouts. This was actually the initial suggestion I sent to Enjoy Life which eventually got me to Scott himself. It sounds as if the company has considered this option but things can get complicated when contract manufacturing. Who knows what will happen in the future but I know for sure that I would order them from a Girl Scout if they were available. The bottom line about this company is that they do listen to customer feedback and input and are extremely engaged with their customer base. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, feel free to email Enjoy Life.

My personal favorite Enjoy Life stuff is the granola (recently reformulated and improved), chocolate chips and of course the cookies. It's great to just open the package and pop in one of those bite-sized soft baked yummies - no mixes, no baking. Stay tuned for more exciting products coming very soon from Enjoy Life (I promised Scott I would not write specifics about them). You can find most Enjoy Life products in the Raleigh area at Kroger, Whole Foods, Harmony Farms, Earth Fare and Lowes Foods.

Scott was extremely pleasant, took a lot of time to answer my questions and even signed my food allergy poster petition to the Raleigh City Council. He is heavily involved in the company operations and serves as a visionary leader to the Gluten Free consumer products market. He is also heavily involved in the Celiac Disease and Gluten Free community by serving on the board's of the GIG's Gluten Free Certification Organization and the American Celiac Disease Alliance (I wrote about the good things going on at ACDA here). Enjoy Life was the first company to go through the GFCO certification process.

Check out Enjoy Life's Web site, you'll find all kinds of good information about their product lines, coupons, recipes and much more. Enjoy Life also is releasing a recipe/cook book called Enjoy Life's Cookies for Everyone!: 150 Delicious Gluten-Free Treats that are Safe for Most Anyone with Food Allergies, Intolerances, and Sensitivities in June which will be available at all major bookstores. The book will feature 150 recipes over 240 pages, is authored by culinary expert Leslie Hammond and all recipes have been reviewed by Enjoy Life Director of Research & Development Betsy Laakso. They have also just finished up the 2nd book in the series which should be out in early 2010.


Andrea Daniel said...

I would do cartwheels if I could have gluten-free thin mints!

If It Barks said...

The Kerr Drug in Raleigh that has recently added a natural foods section has Enjoy Life products. I love the bars. The Kerr Drug is near Magnolia Marketplace at Strickland and Six Forks.

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