BeeFree goes national with tasty gluten-free products
By Ann Craig-Cinnamon
They say necessity is the mother of invention and that is certainly the case with BeeFree Gluten Free Bakery which is a Hamilton County business with a surprising national reach.
Fifteen years ago when Jennifer and Mike Wiese’s oldest son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, they attended a conference to learn ways to help him. What they learned was that his diet was very important and that they should consider feeding him more whole and less processed foods. Furthermore, they learned that a gluten-free diet is especially beneficial to kids with autism.
“We felt that was a reasonable thing we could pursue and to just try and to see if that had any effect on him or not so we did,” says Jennifer, who says that they stopped at Whole Foods on the way home and checked out the tiny selection of gluten-free foods that they offered at the time. They took home many items but wound up throwing most of them away because they tasted like cardboard and had lots of preservatives and chemicals.
The void of good, tasty gluten free products led Jennifer to create her own recipes for her family. Through years of trial and error she came up with products that they began selling at Farmer’s Markets around the area and discovered that there was a great response to them.
Her son, now 23 and a student at Ball State, also responded very well to the new diet and gluten free foods that she created. “He’s more aware and more engaged. It helps his focus and concentration and his sleep. It was all noticeable right away as we were experimenting and discovering whether gluten free would be impactful for him,” she says adding that he has overcome lots of challenges. “It definitely has been worth the effort and the energy to learn how to cook and eat gluten free.”
With the success and local popularity of her products, Jennifer founded BeeFree Gluten Free Bakery in 2010. “Creating a business was kind of by happenstance. I didn’t really start a gluten free diet for my family thinking that it would be a business. It was something that evolved over the years to help fill the need since there seemed to be a lack of good delicious gluten free foods out there and we felt like we could provide a solution to that,” says Jennifer.
Also working in her favor was the fact that, nationally, gluten-free was starting to be fashionable and there was more awareness of Celiac Disease. Jennifer says people were paying more attention to what they were eating.
The local Cross Fit community then approached BeeFree and asked them to create a snack food that followed the Paleo Diet of eating like our ancestors using simple plant-based foods and nothing processed, refined or chemically made.
“That was our challenge. Warrior Mix is what we came up with, a soft and chewy nut and seed-based snack. It has a zipper top that they can toss in their gym bag, doesn’t need to be refrigerated and you can eat it by the handful if you want to,” says Jennifer.
Currently BeeFree sells five different flavors of their Warrior Mix and will be adding more flavors and products this year. The products are named for each of the Wiese’s four sons and Jennifer’s grandmother.
BeeFree has seen an explosion of growth, especially over the last six months, and is currently available in all 50 states and in 2000 stores across the country, including Kroger, Whole Foods, Earth Fare, Fresh Thyme, Market District, and Target. It is also available at Costco outside the Midwest. Jennifer says there are more retail stores that will be added soon.
She credits her company’s success to her small, tight-knit team of six people, including herself and her husband, that makes everything happen.
Jennifer has been responsible for getting their products on the shelves of large national retailers and calls it a test of will and tenacity. “I've been laughed at and ignored by the best of them. Being a woman in this predominately male-led business can add another element of challenge,” she says adding her advice for those attempting something similar. “Stay true to your passion and don't take no as your final answer. No may mean no for today, but by asking questions about your customers’ needs and being able to shift to meet those needs often turns that ‘no’ into a ‘yes’”.
BeeFree’s office and home base is in Noblesville with a warehouse in Cicero and production facilities in Batesville and in Michigan. In addition to many local retail stores, you can also purchase their products on Amazon Prime and the company’s website; www.beefreegf.com.
Jennifer emphasizes that although their products are geared to people with a gluten and dairy issue they are good for everyone. “Gluten free has gotten a bad rap in the last couple of years because there have been a lot of gluten free things out there that don’t taste very good and might have different textures or flavor profiles that people don’t really care for. Our charge has been to create foods with really simple ingredients that are gluten free and that are whole and everything that you can pronounce,” she says, adding “the bottom line is that it tastes really good. We want to create customers for the long haul not just a customer that buys Warrior Mix one time and never buys it again.”