GF Blends soars on demand for gluten-free mixes

A family-owned Richland company is expanding to a new building, thanks to rising demand for its gluten-free bread, cake and other mixes.

GF Blends will occupy a 20,000-square-foot production facility on Battelle Boulevard when construction wraps in April, said owner Glen Call, who is also a contractor. Allpro Inc. is developing the property for GF Blends, with Call serving as both a minority partner in the development team and the tenant.

The new building will house office space and more production space for GF Blends to turn gluten-free ingredients such as blended corn, rice, potato, amaranth, quinoa, millet and other grains into mixes that form the basis for everything from crepes and fish batter to breads and cakes.

The company formed 12 years ago in Utah and has marked steady growth, particularly in the 18 months since it launched an allergen line of gluten-free mixes that, unlike its core products, uses milk, eggs and nuts in its mixes.

“We have had six big customers come on board since we started doing allergens,” he said. Blends that contain allergens are prepared separately from nonallergen products.

Call had planned to keep GF Blends in the 7,800 square feet it occupies at Richland’s Horn Rapids while using about half the new building for storage and some blending. But growing demand left it with no room to store the gluten-free flours, oats and other ingredients that go into its products.

So, he took a leap of faith and decided to take over the entire new building, which sits on a four-acre property on Battelle Boulevard. It is retaining its space at Horn Rapids.

The new building will have about 3,000 square feet of office space, room for storage and production and a bakery that will serve the public. The property is near PCA and Framatome, giving it a built-in customer base.

“I’m taking it all now,” he said.

The city of Richland anticipates a similarly sized addition on the western half of the property in a few years.

The Call family first got involved with gluten-free meals 20 years ago when his wife, Julie, was diagnosed with celiac disease, a digestive disorder triggered by gluten, the protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye.

Three of their seven children and six of their 18 grandchildren were subsequently diagnosed with the condition.

Call said the family’s lightbulb moment came when Julie Call visited their daughter, Betsy Thomas, in Utah as she prepared for the birth of Thomas’ second child.

Julie Call, newly diagnosed with Celiac, subsisted on Hershey’s Kisses and rice cakes.

Call said his daughter decided to master gluten-free cooking, telling her mother, “If I don’t know how to cook for you, you’ll never come back.”

Thomas began experimenting with gluten-free cooking with a friend and neighbor, Kristi Kirkland. In time, they began teaching cooking classes and then fielding requests for mixes and a cookbook.

The requests for blends prompted a logistical challenge. They didn’t want to manage the 20 or so different ingredients it took just to blend flour.

They found a copacker in Utah who was willing to produce small quantities of their recipe for gluten-free all-purpose flour, pancake mix, chocolate flour mix and bread. The manufacturing relationship never gelled. Call said the copacker would promise to deliver products in a few weeks, then go quiet for months.

“We said, ‘We think we can do a better job of this than they’re doing,’ ” he said, noting that his daughter’s family grew and she had less time to manage the business.

So, they did, bringing GF Blends to Richland and its current quarters on Henderson Loop.

Call pruned the product line. He dropped the baking flours. Customers don’t expect to make bread, at least, not before the pandemic inspired home baking. But other mixes were natural sellers.

“Pancake mix, you expect to buy a pancake mix,” he said.

GF Blends introduced a cornbread mix, brownie mix, carrot cake mix and oat flour. While his wife and family must avoid gluten, Call does not. But he enjoys the gluten-free products anyway.

“They’re the best you’ve ever had. They’re just amazing,” he said.

GF Blends sells under its own brand, Eating Gluten Free, and provides blends to commercial customers. It makes muffin, pancake and waffle mixes for a customer in Sisters, Oregon, and the gluten-free batter blends used by some of the region’s best-know seafood producers, like Pacific Seafoods.

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