JOHNSTOWN, COLO. — Increased diagnoses of celiac disease and gluten intolerance in the early 2000s brought about heightened awareness of gluten and its impact on the human digestive system. It wasn’t so much that more people were developing the disease or intolerance, but technology and medical advances — paired with immediate access to information through the internet — put it on the radar.
News travels fast; gluten-free became a growing trend and, some might say, has entered ubiquity.
This growth significantly affected Canyon Bakehouse from the beginning. In fact, the first product launch landed the brand on the shelves of Whole Foods in four states after one meeting with the regional office in Boulder, Colo. The bakery was off and running right out of the gate, and the momentum never stopped. Luckily, Canyon Bakehouse had at the helm an entrepreneur who’s not afraid of innovation in the name of growth.
“We found some space in Loveland, Colo., and put in a small bakery,” said Josh Skow, co-founder and chief executive officer. “(Co-founder Ed Miknevicius) baked and shipped the bread, and I oversaw and ran the company from there.”
Two years later, the bakery moved into half of a 20,000-square-foot space and took it over within a year. During the next five years, Canyon kept growing at astonishing rates, and the Loveland headquarters expanded “campus style,” Mr. Skow said.
The company leased space across the street, a mile down the road and purchased another building about 6 miles from the main headquarters. While most of the bakery operations were concentrated in the main building, downstream packaging — the manual case packing and palletizing — had to be relocated to accommodate the growth of the semi-automated baking process.
Eventually, the bakery’s growth was outpacing the campus development, and the company was faced with some decisions.
“We could have continued growing (in Loveland),” Mr. Skow recalled. “We contemplated getting a fifth building and having bakery operations in two locations, but we decided to take a longer-term approach and move to what we called the ‘one roof’ model.”
At first, the company scoped out opportunities for an existing facility, but nothing completely fit the bill. Just as Canyon was about to settle on a custom-build project, a vacant 165,000-square-foot facility in nearby Johnstown became available. Just 4 years old, the concrete building sat vacant almost as long as it had been in use, and the 200- x 800-ft layout was almost perfectly oriented for a bakery operation.
“We had known about this building because it had been up for lease for a while, but we just couldn’t imagine moving into that much space,” said Mr. Skow, who might be apt to say the company had a history of not planning far enough in advance. But then again, the surge of the gluten-free market came at lighting speed.
“So, how far in advance do you plan?” he wondered. “It’s like when you first get married, do you buy a 6-bedroom house because you think you’ll have a lot of kids, or do you buy a few homes along the way?”
The company took the leap of faith; Canyon scooped up the facility and, on par with the past decade’s velocity, set an aggressive timeline, for which the unanticipated brownfield brought a bit of serendipity. With the design-build process out of the picture, the company was able to retrofit the new building and start up the new automated bread line in about 7 months.
“Finding the brownfield site was probably the Lord’s provision because we needed to get into the facility and start baking a lot faster than a greenfield would have allowed us to do,” Mr. Skow declared. “This project helped us fast-forward the whole process.”
Once everything was up and running in Johnstown, Canyon shut down the existing line in Loveland and relocated it to the new building, a move that took only one week.
“We shut the line down on a Friday; it was dismantled, moved and hooked back up, and we started up again on Monday of the following week,” Mr. Skow recalled.
A move this fast can be attributed to a few things. For starters, the gluten-free market took off at an unprecedented rate; Canyon had little choice but to move with it, so the company was accustomed to acting fast. After all, in its first eight years of business, Canyon products already are sold in all 50 states and in some retailers outside U.S. borders. It’s a trait that positions Canyon to be a true innovator in the centuries-old baking industry.
“The industry has been doing its thing for a long time,” Mr. Skow observed. “I haven’t seen a lot of outsiders come in and do things differently. But our new start-up could be a place where that happens. Being a young company, we pushed pretty hard. We have a mindset of, ‘Don’t tell me why I can’t do something. Let’s figure out how to make it happen.’”
Because gluten-free baking is a relatively new concept, technology innovation often is working to its advantage, and Canyon has found that strong partnerships with its suppliers keeps the needle moving in the right direction, both in operations and R.&D.
“With ingredient advances, we’re able to improve on the texture and eating quality of gluten-free bread as well as implement other similarities to traditional breads,” Mr. Weilert said.
Relationships became key in the start-up as well. While Canyon managed the process engineering internally, it relied on vendors such as Reiser, Topos Mondial, AMF Bakery Systems, Sancassiano and other equipment suppliers. Canyon also sought assistance from Ware Malcomb, the Denver-based structural engineering firm that was used in the building’s original design, and general contractor Murray and Stafford, also out of Denver.
“We bake and sell bread, and we have internal support for those functions,” Mr. Skow noted. “We used third-party resources for the start-up and relied heavily on our equipment suppliers for the design of the line.”