A Brief History Of Kinnikinnick Foods
Back in the late 1980’s, Ted Wolff Von Selzam was looking for a new career. He had spent some time in Germany working for a natural health co-op and had some experience in this emerging market. He began making bakery products for the Farmer’s Market in Edmonton and one day someone asked him if he could make “gluten free” items. Ted then proceeded to make some of the worst gluten free products ever made (which is saying something). Ted had little baking experience, but we’ve often said that when developing GF recipes, not knowing how “it’s supposed to work” can be a benefit. Ted persevered and began to make products for a growing number of clients at the Market. Soon after, he opened a 500 square foot store and brought in GF products such as cookies, and pasta’s which he sold along with his baked goods. Ted continued to expand this business and to develop new breads, buns and cookies as part of the plan. By 1996, Kinnikinnick Foods was supplying the Edmonton market along with a small regional market in B.C and Saskatchewan.
By then, Ted had developed some of the best tasting GF foods available and one of his regular customers was Jerry Bigam, whose wife, Lynne, was Celiac. The Bigams bought into the company in 1997 with the idea that they could make some of these products available to a much wider audience. By then Kinnikinnick had a retail store and a small production space of about 3,000 square feet.
One of the first decisions to be made was on the name. Should we look for a more sophisticated name since we were looking at expanding the market? And then in a flash it came to us – “People might not be able to pronounce it or spell it but they will remember it”. Also the “Kinnikinnick Story” is kind of neat for a specialty health food company (see Kinniki-what???). Today with dozens of new entrants to the market with … GlutenFree-this and GlutenFree-that … there is still only one Kinnikinnick and people still can’t spell it but they somehow remember it and find us.
Shortly after joining Kinnikinnick in 1997, Jay Bigam (son) suggested that there might be something to this new “internet’ business that would allow us to make the company much better known. As they say the “rest is history”. Kinnikinnick developed the first GF internet site and became one of the very first companies in the world to supply perishable food products using the internet. The company understood that you needed to have a reliable distribution system to support the internet business and over the next two years developed the shipping systems necessary. We survived the “dot.com” crash which saw many internet companies fail when they did not have the “bricks and mortar” necessary to support market demand. The internet wasn’t a business for us, it was a tool.
However, the internet was an invaluable tool for a growing company. Comments appeared on the internet saying how good the Kinnikinnick products were. All of a sudden, there were hundreds of people across North America who became our best sales people. They went into stores and told the managers how good the products were. Or they popped up on the web with their comments about new products or just how pleased they were to get decent GF food. At that time good quality, readily available GF food was the exception. Our internet site and over night delivery throughout North America meant that anyone could enjoy Kinnikinnick food. The only problem we had was the orders from the rest of the world that we could not supply.
The increasing popularity of Kinnikinnick products required a move to a new 10,000 square foot facility in 1998. New products continued to be added and our internet business grew dramatically. We expanded again in 2001 to 15,000 square feet and added new types of products like bagels, pizza crusts and donuts. By 2002 we were out of space again so moved to a new location with 30,000 square feet and “plenty of room” for future expansion. Lynne (wife) left her legal practice and joined the company and Jay was diagnosed with Celiac disease. By this time, our many internet customers were spreading the word and we supplied many of the Canadian retail store chains and were providing more and more products to US health food stores.
One day we got a call from a large US food distributor who said that “your products are the most requested that we don’t carry – how do we get you into our system”. Again thanks to our internet customers who made retail stores aware of our products. I don’t know how many calls we got from store managers who said that they had an empty bag that a customer had dropped off asking him to carry Kinnikinnick products. Clearly consumers had considerable influence.
About this time, Ted decided that having grown the company from 6 employees in 1997 to around 70, that he wanted to look at other career and family options. As a result our family acquired all of Kinnikinnick in early 2005.
By 2005 our large new facility was operating 2 shifts and running out of space. As it happened one of the largest cookie manufacturers in North America was located in Edmonton and when they closed down we were able to acquire our second facility which contains 120,000 square feet with some of the most advanced equipment available. It took us 6 months to decontaminate the building and equipment. Today instead of producing 60 cookies per minute as in our old facility we produce 3000 cookies a minute. We also can produce items like the KinniTOOS sandwich cookies that require a very sophisticated production line. Both of our operating plants are dedicated gluten free facilities as they have been from the start.
Today our internet business is a small but important part of our business with the large majority of our products sold in retail stores throughout North America (including Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Alaska). Kinnikinnick products are available much more readily than ever before and if it turns out you cannot find them locally or you cannot find a particular product you want then the internet is always available. In the future you will see the Kinnikinnick brand in other parts of the world.
Kinnikinnick has accelerated its product development to provide a much wider range of products. For example you can now find KinniKritters (animal cookies), KinniTOOS (chocolate and vanilla sandwich cookies) and S’Moreables (graham style cookies) at many retail stores. You can also find toaster waffles, donuts, cinnamon buns and a wide range of breads, buns, bagels, muffins and pizza crusts. All of these products are made in either of our two dedicated gluten free facilities. We have a number of new products in development and these will be introduced over the coming months. (By the way, did I say that almost all of our products are dairy free as well as gluten free – oh! and most are soy free as well and better yet they taste great).
As we go forward, more and better competing products are entering the market and we know that we have to continue to innovate to keep the Kinnikinnick brand strong and relevant to new consumers. Our commitment to our customers is to have the best and safest gluten free product in the market. At the same time we want to provide a range and selection of bakery items that anyone would enjoy. Our products continue to improve they will find recognition as tasty alternative foods and will much more readily available. We also keep our focus on nutritional and food values so that we can provide the healthiest food possible. Our lab and test kitchen facilities continue to strive to make the best products in the market so that we can continue to say
Gluten Free Has Never Tasted So Good ®