Iowa City gluten-free company’s sales increase

By Jessica Carbino

IOWA CITY – Anna Sobaski, owner of Breads From Anna, which makes gluten-free products, has seen a steady increase in sales ever since her first bread mix went on the Internet in March 2004.

Breads From Anna achieved several milestones in 2012, including expansion into the Middle East market through a new Dubai distributor and acquisition of several new retail and channel partners. Ms. Sobaski saw significant growth in her retail sales as well as sales to restaurants, bakeries, and caterers. The company experienced record sales during the fourth quarter of 2012.

Last year, the company added distributors and retail outlets, which led to more sales. Orders from Chicago increased 25-30 percent. Distributors from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and throughout Europe have also begun to take an even greater interest in her products, she said.

In January, Breads from Anna was awarded a $450,000 loan from the Iowa Innovation Acceleration Fund to be used for prototype design, marketing and hiring key personnel.

So far, Ms. Sobaski has achieved success with minimal marketing.

“It’s a testament to the quality of her product,” said Julie Zielinski, the EDC’s vice president of marketing. “It comes down to it being a good product that people are looking for.”

A reason for her company’s growth is an increased demand for gluten-free products, Ms. Sobaski said. As more people are diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, they are hearing about and trying the gluten-free lifestyle.

Many companies use refined sugar, starchy ingredients and fillers with no nutritional value, while Breads From Anna uses items such as millet flour, chickpea flour and sweetens with maple or honey.

“I try to offer products that make people on this diet feel like they are getting something special,” Ms. Sobaski said.

One of her goals is to create products that are popular with non-gluten-free customers and products for which there is no gluten equivalent.

Popular mixes include the banana and pumpkin breads. Her all-purpose flour blend is safe for those with many allergies.

As for the future, Ms. Sobaski plans to release a cookbook she has worked on since before she attended the Natural Gourmet Cookery School Institute for Food and Health and started her business. With every recipe she will provide different allergen-free options using her mixes.

She also plans to use EDC’s knowledge to make marketing a larger focus and to strategize for sales during seasons when baking decreases.

With the help of the state loan she was recently awarded, she will have the resources to take Breads From Anna even further.

“We hope to eliminate road blocks and barriers and provide functional expertise so she can focus on her business,” Ms. Zielinski said.