Stacey Chillemi: What inspired you to come up with the idea of Maplegrove Gluten-Free Foods?
Sylvia Tam: It was mostly serendipity; being in the right place at the right time back in 1982. The dearth of variety and good quality gluten-free foods at reasonable prices just screamed out the needs of the celiac community to which a number of us belonged. As the saying goes, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ We invented and came up with a solid business opportunity.
Stacey Chillemi: Do you have a particular health journey that led down the path of gluten-free foods?
Sylvia Tam: A number of us have food allergies and intolerances, especially to wheat and gluten. It may be said that because of this unique qualification Maplegrove understands the issue of gluten intolerance more so than most other companies in the field.
Stacey Chillemi: Are the foods you manufacture for people who have gluten sensitivity and celiac disease or can anyone eat them?
Sylvia Tam: Our products are formulated to give those with the celiac disease an uncompromised dining experience at a reasonable cost. We feel that if we succeed at this target then a non-celiac family member would enjoy the food equally. This would eliminate not only the necessity of cooking two meals but also any kind of cross-contamination. One of my most memorable votes of appreciation was at a celiac show in Phoenix where we launched our mac & cheese cups; a little boy, who was not the celiac member of the family, turned and remarked to his mother, “Mommy, this doesn’t taste gluten-free.”
Stacey Chillemi: Do you recommend consumers look for anything in particular (certification, ingredients, or other) when searching for the best GF pasta?
Sylvia Tam: Yes, very much so! Consumers should look for brands that are the third party certified, such as those that bear the GFCO logo, and also look or ask if the food they are planning to serve to their celiac kids or family members was produced in a gluten-free facility and how vigilant the producer is in verifying that they are producing celiac safe foods. All of our raw materials originate from certified gluten-free facilities and we test to ensure our standards are maintained.
Stacey Chillemi: Are there any products that your company manufactures that you feel deserve special attention?
Sylvia Tam: We take great pride in making all of our products gluten-free safe, innovative, and great tasting. One of our newest products is our Vegan, Gluten-Free Mac Uncheddar – a brand new take on classic comfort food without cheese! We are extremely excited about the customers’ enthusiasm for this product. One gluten-free blogger, Amee Cantagallo, had this reaction from her kids, “…… ‘Mom, it was cheese and pasta it was creamy and it was great. If I didn’t like it, you would know it would be on my plate still.’” Mac Uncheddar is not only vegan and gluten-free, but it is also lactose, dairy, casein, nut, and soy-free. It has 10 g of plant-based protein per serving and it is boosted with prebiotic, FOS. Mac Uncheddar is Non-GMO and has zero trans fat and zero saturated fat.
Stacey Chillemi: Where can people find your product if they want to learn more about it or if they are interested in purchasing it?
Sylvia Tam: Our products are available at Sprouts Farmers Markets, Raley’s, Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, Harmon’s, Bashas’, Amazon, VeganEssentials.com, TheVeganStore.com, and independent health food stores nationwide. If it is not at your local store, then please tell them about us.
Stacey Chillemi: How many gluten-free pasta brands/products are available today, and how does this compare to five or 10 years ago?
Sylvia Tam: There has been significant growth in the number of pasta brands on the market and we have had an active role in this, as we are primarily a contract manufacturer. A lot of familiar brands have originated in one of our two plants in California. Even without counting, I feel safe in stating that there is at least ten times the number that existed ten years ago.
Stacey Chillemi: What Ingredients are used in your pasta?
Sylvia Tam: It goes without saying that we use only gluten-free ingredients. What is more important is that we source only from certified, audited, gluten-free suppliers and these audits are done by company personnel or auditors acting on our behalf. We use strictly non-GMO ingredients which range from brown rice, white rice, corn, quinoa, hemp, chia, flax, pre and probiotics, vitamins and minerals, and legumes as is required by the formulation.
Stacey Chillemi: What taste/texture benefits come from those ingredients in those formulations?
Sylvia Tam: We aim for a neutral flavor that will not overpower the sauce, a texture that is between chewy and soft, and a product that offers good nutritional value.
Stacey Chillemi: Does cooking preparation depend on what ingredients the product is made from? (Will a corn-based pasta cook up differently than a brown rice-based pasta?)
Sylvia Tam: Yes, it is important to read the instructions. Cook times can range from 3.5 minutes to 11 minutes for different products.
Stacey Chillemi: What are some of your innovative gluten-free products that were brought to the marketplace.
Sylvia Tam: Maplegrove Gluten Free Foods has played and continues to play a highly effective role in bringing innovative changes to the category and industry as a whole. We were first to market with our Instant Gluten-Free Mac and Cheese Cups.
Just pop one in a microwave and you have an instant gluten-free meal anytime, anywhere. Our brand new Mac Uncheddar is the first of its kind in the vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free categories. Our R&D team took the time to come up with an authentically cheesy flavor without the cheese in order to take on the challenge of combining dietary needs with great taste. Our company, with helpful advice from stalwarts of the industry, Shelley Case (Dietician, Author, Speaker), Marion Zarkadas (Senior Official at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency), and Carol Fenster (Dietician, Author, Speaker), was the first out of the gate in 1990 with a nutrient-dense fortified potato-based pasta. There is a series of “firsts” in our history and a wealth of new products that will be brought to the market on a regular basis in our future.
Stacey Chillemi: How environmentally aware is Maplegrove?
Sylvia Tam: Our practices as a responsible employer and a good steward of the environment is multifaceted. We advise, teach and train our employees to practice the Three R’s. Waste that goes to the landfill is minimal, one small bin (even though we have over sixty-five team members). Metal, plastics, wood, paper, and food waste go to recycling and composting facilities. We use energy-efficient rail service, extensively, to bring in our raw materials and we source locally where available. Electrical power consumption has been reduced with the use of skylights, high-efficiency motors, advanced lighting systems (with sensors that detect the presence or absence of people and turn on or off automatically), and smarter engineering throughout our plants. We have reduced the consumption of water in our drought-affected state with effective collection and recycling systems. The effluent released is filtered to remove solids and oils to ensure our operation is not a source of avoidable contaminants to the sewer system. Solar energy collection in our sun-blessed area of California augments our effort to continually reduce the use of imported energy. Our pledge to ourselves is to be a good corporate citizen that will always look at the big, long-term picture and to leave behind more good and less harm.
Electrical power consumption has been reduced with the use of skylights, high-efficiency motors, advanced lighting systems (with sensors that detect the presence or absence of people and turn on or off automatically), and smarter engineering throughout our plants. We have reduced the consumption of water in our drought-affected state with effective collection and recycling systems. The effluent released is filtered to remove solids and oils to ensure our operation is not a source of avoidable contaminants to the sewer system. Solar energy collection in our sun-blessed area of California augments our effort to continually reduce the use of imported energy. Our pledge to ourselves is to be a good corporate citizen that will always look at the big, long-term picture and to leave behind more good and less harm.
Stacey Chillemi: What do you see as your social responsibilities?
Sylvia Tam: Our social responsibilities are upheld by the day-to-day practices of our entire team. We make quality products with the primary goal of making them affordable. This concept is furthered with our charitable work by regularly donating to food banks, soup kitchens, and supporting celiac causes throughout North America. We have created a reserve fund so as to be in a position to donate when there are natural disasters around the world. Our donations are expressly apolitical as we consider every human being as a member of our human family.
A project that is close to the hearts of our ownership group is to participate in projects aimed to bring safe, potable water to disadvantaged communities around the world. We donate blood regularly with a blood collection firm, LifeStream. We will be sponsoring a blood donor drive on May 27th, 2015 from 10 AM-3 PM at our Chino facility, Maplegrove Gluten Free Foods, Inc., 5010 Eucalyptus Ave., Chino, CA 91710. Please call 1 800 879 4484 to schedule an appointment; donors are welcome.