We are living in a time when consumer preferences have made what Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison calls “a seismic shift.” Consumers today, especially those in the Millennial generation aged 18-35, want to use their purchasing power to support a good cause, not just a good product. They want to work for a company that has a good mission, not just one that provides them a good paycheck. They are drawn increasingly to smaller, authentic companies that are part of changing the status quo, particularly in the area of food. The desire for a transparent food system that provides products that are healthier and sustainable is significant—and has led to the rise of a new category: challenger brands. At UpField, we have the pleasure of working with challenger brands through our Capital division. A great example of a challenger brand is OMG…Its Gluten Free: a young, energetic company changing the way the world views gluten free. There are many established brands out there that boast a wide array of gluten free products but as the demand for gluten free steadily rises, so does the expectation of quality products. That’s where OMG comes in and takes the market by storm. Working with a young challenger brand like OMG brings about opportunities to meet other challenger brands making a name for themselves in a sea of new products. We were introduced to another small gluten free company called Around the World Gourmet at a food allergy fair on Ohio State University’s campus earlier this year. OMG’s booth just happened to be set up next to an entrepreneur named Jen who had a display of beautiful gluten free and vegan flatbreads. What began as a conversation about the absence of gluten in their products turned into lunch after the event where the founder of OMG, Julie Scianna, and Jen picked each others brains about their companies, the gluten free industry, and current market trends that were affecting their businesses. The beauty of this conversation? They discovered many synergies between their companies and their business goals. Around the World Gourmet is a small gluten free and vegan company that focuses on organic and non-GMO products. Their delicious flatbreads and pizzas definitely have their niche in the gluten free market, and owner Jen has her found her passion in creating a company by her own standards. How did you get started cooking and baking gluten free? “I was teaching business plan courses for a commercial kitchen business incubator as a side consulting job and was tired of working for companies that provided an unsatisfactory work environment. So, in 2005, I made the decision to partner with two friends and start my own company using the business incubator to produce our products. I researched the market and decided all-natural/organic was the market I wanted to be in; I wanted to be able to start selling to all-natural grocery stores. As I was welcomed into the all-natural/organic grocery stores and invited to participate in samplings at stores and Celiac conferences, I learned more about gluten free baking. I decided to expand my brand into gluten free bakery products, as the demand was very high for something that tasted good.” What was the inspiration for your products? “My inspiration came from those people in Central Ohio that I met at the in-store samplings and at Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s annual Celiac conference. They told me their stories of being sick and learning they had Celiac Disease, how there wasn’t a lot of gluten free foods to choose from, and what was available didn’t taste good. This challenged me to start baking better tasting products. I won two grants through the Center for Innovative Food Technology that helped me develop gluten free products and perform sensory evaluations with participants from the Celiac community in Columbus and Dayton, Ohio. I knew from talking with these customers that they also had food allergies. I decided to make my products free of: gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, soy and nuts. People always ask me “if none of those ingredients are in there, how does it still taste good?” I jokingly tell them ‘it’s fairy dust of course.’ ” What has been your biggest challenge as a small brand in a competitive market? “The biggest challenges have been the lack of financial backing, my own kitchen facility, and a team to help my company grow. I have been by myself for the most part, renting gluten free kitchen space and having to bake at night with a skeleton crew of workers for the last several years.” What is your favorite part of owning your own business? “Being able to establish my company with a healthy environment for employees to work and to make the right decisions about the future growth of my company. Too many times I’ve worked for other companies in middle management and witnessed poor decisions being made. I witnessed how employees were treated and couldn’t do anything about it. I have always wanted to create an environment where everyone loved coming to work.” What is your professional background? (What past careers have helped you in owning your own food business?) “I graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in Finance. During my junior and senior years, I worked a full time job at Glory Foods in Columbus as an Accountant. I then worked as a Business Manager/Controller for a school for the hearing impaired, a Program/Budget Manager for a University with a technology transfer center managing multi-million dollar budgets, a financial analyst for an energy company, and have provided accounting and business consulting to many small businesses.” How do you see your business growing in the next 5 years? What about the growth of the gluten free market? “I’d like to see my company grow in sales and product offerings. Within the next 5 years, I hope to have a marketing team, investment money, and national distribution. I currently have products that are partially organic. I’d like to get my organic certification for retail products and B certification. I am a huge advocate of the organic movement – pesticides and herbicides do a lot of damage to our bodies. Becoming a B Corporation, or Benefit Corporation, is important to me also. I want to offer healthy products and a healthy work environment.” You can learn more about Around the World Gourmet by following them on Facebook and Twitter. Visit their website to find retailers and restaurants carrying their gluten free products.