GF Blends of Richland is expanding to keep up with the demand its customers are seeing for gluten-free food.
The company, started six years ago by native Tri-Citians Glen and Julie Call, is building a $326,000 warehouse and processing facility after running out of storage space.
The new building is adjacent to their current gluten-free facility, at 2151 Henderson Loop, Building A, in Richland.
Glen Call, the company’s president, said they will continue to use their current 2,800-square-foot building even once the new 5,000-square-foot facility is completed.
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Call and his wife, Julie, saw a need for a gluten-free co-packer, which makes and packages products for other businesses.
Julie, three of their children and about half of their grandchildren have celiac disease — a hereditary autoimmune disorder where eating gluten can damage the small intestine.
Those with celiac disease eat gluten-free to avoid other health problems. But many other people are allergic to gluten and don’t have celiac disease. The allergy can result in a range of symptoms.
Eating gluten-free improves the lives of those with gluten allergies or celiac disease, Call said. But it doesn’t mean that someone is necessarily eating healthier. It means switching out one starch for another and replacing wheat with rice or corn.
At GF Blends, they do dry blending, which means employees take raw ingredients and mix them according to customer recipes, Call said. They then package and label the products before sending them to customers.
They also provide wholesale ingredients to restaurants and bakeries, including rice flour, corn flour, tapioca starch and potato starch, which Call says are the basic building blocks of gluten-free flours.
As a co-packer, GF Blends doesn’t have its own products, since that could put the company in competition with its customers. And Call said they are very careful to protect their customers’ recipes.
They work hard to keep the facility gluten-free, which means not letting in anything that is contaminated, Call said. A sign on their front door reminds all who enter that they can’t bring in bread, doughnuts or other foods with gluten into the facility. Employees also are not allowed to eat lunch in the building unless what they eat is provided by the company.
GF Blends’ facility and production is also free of milk, egg, tree nut, peanut, fish, shellfish and soy products — anything on the list of the “big 8” food allergies.
“So many people who have problems with gluten also have problems with other things,” Call said.
GF Blends isn’t one of the big players in gluten-free copacking, at least not yet, Call said. They mix batches for customers as small as 350 pounds, although they also mix 60,000 pounds at a time.
“We’d like to be bigger, and we are working on it,” Call said.
GF Blends hopes to increase production three to four times this year, Call said. Two of his largest customers have expansion plans.
Call, a general contractor with Call Co. of Richland, is acting as the general contractor for GF Blends’ new building. He expects to have the steel building finished in as soon as two months.
GF Blends has four part-time employees now and will add more as business demands, Call said.