Rochester, NY based grocer Wegmans is introducing a Private Brand line of gluten-free products. After a year of testing and tweaking recipe formulations for gluten-free pasta, and for mixes that make gluten-free cake, brownies and cookies, Wegmans Food Markets has launched the first products in a Private Brand line of gluten-free foods that are traditionally wheat-based.
Customers will find the pasta and the new mixes in both the Nature’s Marketplace section of the store and in regular aisles for pasta and baking. These products reach stores during May, which is Celiac Awareness month:
- Gluten-free spaghetti, fusilli, penne and elbows, in one-pound boxes that sell for $2.49.
- A vanilla cake mix and chocolate cake mix. Each mix makes one 8-inch round cake layer and sells for $3.49.
- A gluten-free sugar cookie mix, which sells for $3.49 and makes 22 cookies.
- A double chocolate brownie mix for $3.49 that makes one 8-inch square pan of brownies.
Growing awareness of celiac disease and other health conditions in which gluten plays a role has heightened interest in gluten-free versions of foods over the last decade. The research firm Packaged Facts calculates that U.S. retail sales of gluten-free products have risen from just under $1 billion in 2006 to an estimated $2.6 billion this year. There are now thousands of gluten-free foods available in stores or online from specialty websites.
“We see more gluten-free products every year and the quality keeps improving,” says Charlie Gardner, category merchant for the Nature’s Marketplace area of Wegmans stores. “The gluten-free area has grown from a 12-foot section to several aisles in the Nature’s Marketplace department of the store. In fact, gluten-free foods are found all over our stores – there are about 1,700 different Wegmans brand items alone, from orange juice to ketchup, and they’re easy to spot because there’s a gluten-free wellness key on the package.”
The pasta customers loved best
When Wegmans decided to bring out its own brand of gluten-free pasta, the company asked customers to help with a taste test. “Last July, about 100 customers tasted current products we carried and ones we had in development. The winner was a corn-based pasta we chose for our own gluten-free pasta line,” says Gardner. “Not only are the flavor and texture pleasing, but we think home cooks will have more success with it. When we tested various other brands, we saw it could be tricky to get things just right – a bit undercooked, and the pasta was grainy; a bit overcooked, and it was mushy. Our corn-based pasta keeps a nice texture even if it sits in the pot a little past recommended cooking time.”
Cakes, cookies and brownies so good you won’t know they’re gluten-free
Creating deliciously moist, flavorful baked goods without wheat flour begins either with having pastry-chef baking skills and plenty of practice time, or with having one of the new Wegmans-brand gluten-free mixes in your pantry.
Patty Fowler, one of Wegmans’ Artisan Bakers, worked for nearly a year testing and tweaking the formulation for four mixes until she hit on the just-right combination.
“My vision of what the brownies should be was dark and decadent – like the best brownies you ever had,” says Fowler. “We worked hard to get to that point, and I’m very pleased with the result. Whenever Wegmans develops a product for its own label, we want it to be as good or better than national brands. The cakes and cookies are really smooth, not grainy, and the brownies are just amazing.”
Using the mixes is simplicity itself. They call for adding just a couple of fresh ingredients – perhaps an egg and some butter – and the batter or dough is easy to work with. “We think home cooks will have a lot of success with these mixes,” Fowler says, “and that makes us happy.”
Wegmans Nutritionist Trish Kazacos, RD, ACE-CPT follows a gluten-free diet herself and cooks for her family at home. “Our new gluten-free products can make life easier and more fun,” says Kazacos. “When everyone around the table eats the same foods, it makes the meal a better experience. And when gluten-free foods taste this good, everybody can enjoy them. When there’s a reason to celebrate – like a birthday, or a family party – you can make and bake a dessert in less than an hour that’s so delicious nobody will even realize it’s gluten-free.”