DENVER — In 2018, Ardent Mills launched a new business unit named The Annex, focused on offering specialty grains to food companies and foodservice operators. Affirming its commitment to this sector, Ardent Mills made numerous investments over the past year in areas including quinoa supply and handling, specialty grains cleaning and the market for transitional flour.
“We were looking forward to Expo West to share what we’ve been doing,” said Don Trouba, senior director, go-to market, with The Annex. He said Ardent Mills had intended to send 16 associates to Natural Products Expo West earlier in March, before the event was canceled because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The most recent of the investments to build out further The Annex business was an acquisition, announced in February, of the Andean Naturals’ quinoa sourcing, cleaning and packaging operations in Yuba, City, Calif.
Shrene White, general manager of The Annex, said the acquisition will enhance the company’s ability to supply customers with domestically produced as well as imported quinoa.
“We have a really great US-based program with growers in Mosca, Colo., to grow quinoa and clean it in Yuba City,” she said. “We would move it to Andean and pack it. The acquisition of Andean allows us to do the same with farmers in Bolivia. It gives us access to the Bolivian market, the Peruvian, and we also have the US market.”
Because the Andean plant is a gluten-free facility, The Annex also will use it to handle other gluten-free grains, potentially including chia, sorghum, rice, millet, amaranth and teff, Mr. Trouba said.
He said the plant will be able to produce multi-grain blends, which have been generating steadily increasing customer interest.
“We are doing a lot of work with net carb application mixes,” he said. “We have seen a lot of interest in people following low- and net-carb diets.”
He said Ardent teams in Oregon have mixes for either finished bread or products like pizza mixes and targeted to specific levels of net carbs (equal to total carbohydrates minus fiber).
“The team has developed great mixes around this,” he said.
Last summer, Ardent Mills acquired a grain elevator in Klamath Falls, Ore., to support the company’s organic program.
“We also invested in our mill in Denver, installing state-of-the-art equipment that allows us to polish, pearl, color sort and pack grain berries,” Mr. Trouba said. “We have a huge amount of flexibility to serve people who want, say, domestic supplies of spelt or farro.”
Ms. White said the increased capabilities at Denver have allowed the company to deepen its relationship with areas growers.
“We have a great connection with farmers in the area,” she said. “(The new capabilities in Denver have) given them the opportunity to diversify a little of what they’re doing on the farm. Because we can bring some of these old grains back to the farm, it gives them a different market than just the commodity market they are used to. Some of our local guys are looking to put a few acres of Einkorn or spelt. It gives them access to a different market.”
For several years, Ardent Mills has been working with growers as part of an effort to expand the supply of organic flour. Mr. Trouba said the company recently has been collaborating with FoodMaven, a Colorado Springs, Colo., company, launching a transitional wheat flour, milled from wheat cultivated using organic production techniques but that has not yet been certified organic.
“You’ll see some mainstream brands have dabbled in transitional for a while, but it hasn’t been broadly available to foodservice through distribution,” Mr. Troubla said.
Toward this end, he said Ardent is milling all-purpose flour for foodservice, universities and small bakers, milled from transitional wheat.
“A driver of innovation is ‘eating for good,’” he said. “Consumers want to make an impact, not just on their health, but on the planet or other causes they believe in.”