Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Donuts, Donuts, Donuts

We've been hearing from some of you about the changes we recently made to our donuts. A gratifying number of emails have been positive.

"I just purchased your Cinnamon Donuts and I L-O-V-E-D them. I could not tell the difference from regular flour."

"I've always bought a lot of your products. Now I've tried your new and improved Cinnamon Sugar Donuts. Oh my gosh, they are so FANTASTIC."

What a heavenly find in your vanilla frosted and cinnamon sugar doughnuts."

"Wow, great Donuts. I tried your maple glazed donuts today and they were terrific"

I say gratifying because we knew we'd upset some people when we made the changes, and we did. We do not make changes to any of our products without some pretty good reasons. I'd like to let you in on just why we would "mess with something that already had rave reviews"

One person's snack is another's meal
Rave reviews aside, the number one comment about the donuts that we had from people over the last number of years has been, "they're really good but they're too big and too heavy." It's always been our intention to lighten them up and make them smaller. Until recently we did not have the ability to do this, which I'll explain in a bit. When we were in a position to provide the smaller donut, we were reasonably sure that the majority of people would be pleased. One of the things that surprised us after we made the changes was the number of people who were using our donuts as meal replacements and were disappointed by the donuts not being as filling as they used to be. Frankly, we never considered this to be an issue when developing the new formulation. In all the focus group testing we did, this never came up as an issue. From our perspective, based on extensive customer feedback over 10 years, the whole point to the resizing was to make the donuts -less- filling.

Popularity can be a problem.
There's no question. Our old donuts were popular. So popular, that demand for them almost forced us to discontinue them. How is that possible you ask? It's pretty simple when you realize that every single one of those old donuts was cut by hand (actually twice because of the hole). Over the last 10 years, we tried every possible way of automating the production. We had donut "experts" from Belshaw (one of the world's largest donut equipment manufacturers) spend almost a week with us because they were 100% sure they could help us. They left shaking their heads, doubtful we'd ever find a piece of equipment that would work with our dough. (In fact they were right in a way... more on that later). The only way we were ever successful was to cut them, one at a time, by hand. The dough was so hard to work with that we couldn't even design a hand cutter that would do the donut and the hole at the same time. So, one person would cut the donut round and pass it to the next person, who would cut the hole. We did this about 1.5 million times last year. And the year before. And the year before that.

Supply and demand
The fact that we've made about the same number of donuts every year for the last 3 years tells you one of two things. We've either reached a market demand plateau and everyone who wants to buy our donuts is buying them. Or we've reached our production capacity. Anyone who knows anything about the exploding gluten free market demand will know it was certainly not the former. Any one who talks to our distributors or our retailers will know for sure that is the latter. Demand for donuts was many, many times what we could hope to supply. Distributors, retailers and consumers were all becoming quite unhappy with the situation. Distributors and retailers have fairly short tolerances for -shorts-, shortages in their orders. All of partners have been very accommodating and we REALLY appreciate everyones patience. However there are limits and we began to receive warnings about delisting of products. Faced with the decision of having the donuts become widely UNavailable or making some changes, we knew it was time to act. In mid 2007, we purchased some highly specialized donut equipment, which based on our experience, had the best chance of working for us. It was immediately apparent that our existing formulation was not going to work, even with this specialized equipment. It was time to make the change.

The Long and Donut-y Road.
In August of 2007, we began work on a new formulation which would:

  1. Work in the machine

  2. Be smaller and lighter

  3. Be Soy free

  4. Work in the machine

After almost 6 months of development, we finally had a formulation we were happy with. Throughout this period we did focus group testing with customers who shop at our local retail store here in Edmonton and our staff of over 170 people. By the middle of February, we had our final formulation. And it worked in the machine. Now all we had to do was make enough to fill all the initial orders, which were huge. We worked around the clock, 7 days a week for almost 4 weeks and the machine ran pretty much continuously for that whole time. In that first month, we made almost as many donuts as we had made the previous 6 months. Demand problem solved? Not quite. Even with this huge increase in production, the new packaging and popularity of the reformulation means we've seen demand grow even more. We're currently looking adding a second line. Sigh.

I'll continue this in a future post.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rumor Mill: Gluten Free Status of Kinnikinnick Products

The internet is a wonderful thing. It's also has some pretty serious flaws. It is the worlds largest rumor mill and there can be a lot of misinformation out there. As a company, it's difficult to manage inaccuracies that are floating around, if you even find out about them in the first place. We do monitor the major lists and some of the more popular blogs but keeping track of every one would be a full time job.

(everything we make is gluten free)

We've recently run into a rumor that our new donuts are not gluten free. This appears to have originated from a few misinformed store managers. The confusion has arisen because some of our distributors and stores have decided to drop our Chocolate Dipped and Maple Glazed Donuts.

(everything we make is gluten free)

The reason is fairly straightforward. Some of these companies have rules about artificial ingredients and the Icing we use for these 2 products contains artifical flavors and colors. It has absolutely nothing to do with their gluten free status.

(everything we make is gluten free)

Some store managers have wrongly assumed that the products are no longer gluten free because the distributor is no longer carrying these 2 products when this is simply not the case.

(everything we make is gluten free)

The frustrating thing about this whole issue is that we have built our company and reputation on being gluten free and this not only calls into question the status of our donuts, but everything we do. We've always known that it is impossible to co-produce gluten free and gluten containing products in the same facility. This is why we have always been a dedicated gluten free manufacturer. Every product we make, we make ourselves in our two dedicated facilities. Unlike some manufacturers claiming to be GF, there is no contracting out to the lowest bidder, there is no risk of ingredients being cross contaminated. It's also important that we are a Canadian manufacturer and as such, are required to follow some of the strictest regulations for gluten free products in the world. If a product is labeled gluten free in Canada, it must not contain more than 20ppm of gluten and any product with amount higher than that is subject to recall. The FDA's proposed regulations were modelled in large part on the Canadian model. However this alone is not enough for us. Remember that 2 of the 3 owners of Kinnikinnick are celiac.

(everything we make is gluten free)

To our knowledge, we are the only manufacturer that has it's own gluten testing lab on site. Many manufacturers rely on the ELISA quick tests, which have a threshold of detection of 50ppm for wheat only. Our lab uses the R5 Monoclonal Antibody test which has a limit of detectability down to less than 5ppm. This is the same test that the University of Nebraska and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency uses. The R5 test also detects barley and rye proalamines (the harmful proteins). We test all of our ingredients with this test so we know for a fact that our products are gluten free from even before they are produced.

(everything we make is gluten free)

Now you know that our products always have been and still are gluten free. But you may asking yourself, why the artificial stuff in the icing. Simply put, removing artificial ingredients from our products is secondary to providing our customers with safe, gluten free products that are also tasty. We'll do it when we can, but in the case of the donut icing, there just isn't an icing that doesn't contain artificial ingredients and:
  1. Is gluten, dairy and soy free
  2. Is freezer stable
  3. Is available to us in sufficient quantities
We are trying to convince our icing manufacturer to make a custom formula for use without the artificial ingredients but this is a longer term process. Until then we'll continue to use the existing and while some health food stores will not stock it, we have many new major accounts with mass market retailers (ie: your local grocery store) that don't have similar issues with ingredients. As these stores see the demand for the Chocolate and Maple Donuts, the problem with availability will be eased.

(everything we make is gluten free)

It's also important to note that this issue with artificial ingredients does not apply to our Cinnamoin Sugar or Vanilla Glazed Donuts and your local health food store can still get them from our distributors.

footnote: Maybe the silliest aspect of this whole issue is that we've always had artificial flavors listed as part of the icing. In fact there has been no change to the icing with our new formulation. The previous label list only "color" which was initially what was provided to us by our ingredient manufacturer. Some time ago, they changed their statement and with the new packaging, we have updated our ingredient listing as well. I guess that one was OK but having 2 artificials showing on the label was one too many??

BTW... Did I mention everything we make is gluten free


Hi everyone,

My name is Jay Bigam and I am the Executive VP of Kinnikinnick Foods. I am also one of the 3 members of the family who own Kinnikinnick; the others being my mother, Lynne and my father, Jerry. My mother and I are both celiac and our family has been involved with the company since 1997. We took over complete ownership of the company in 2005 when the founder of the company, Ted Wolf von Selzam retired.

My duties here include managing our information technology and website development and more recently, product development as well fixing the occasional kitchen sink ;)

I also was/am the editor of our newsletter, which has not been published in a very long time. The newsletter was a great way to keep our customers up to date on news and issues but since the newsletter took a fair bit of time to put together, it was only sent out every couple of months. (when it went at all)

This is where this blog fills in that gap. It will allow me to keep everyone updated on things at Kinnikinnick in a timely manner. It will also allow me to respond to your questions.

By Subscribing to this feed you'll get an insight into what is happening here. I'll also comment on some of the trends and issues in the GF and GFCF communities.