Switching it Up...
When I was invited by the fabulous Neha of Switch Grocery to contribute the below blog post to her company's blog, I jumped at the opportunity. Switch Grocery is founded on the very same principles as Bald Baker, and Neha has built the company into the exact partner that I could only have dreamt of being with when I started BB. Switch has enable me to bring our scrumptious treats to you; to put a smile on your face and a sense of satisfaction in your bellies.
What's below is a slightly edited version of that post, but part I of IV in a series that ties the main drivers of our company to the four principles it is founded upon: Relevance, Authenticity, Gourmet & Polish. I want to take some to be fully transparent about why we have made certain decisions as they relate to our products' development; specifically why we have chosen to use some of the ingredients that we do.
I legally established Bald Baker a little more than a year ago, but it really started a few years before that on a trip I was on with my brother and father in New Orleans. Our old man is my mentor, my advisor, my friend... he’s my father… and that’s why I was so terrified one night when he experienced a glycemic event after dinner. Within 30 minutes of finishing the meal, and not one in which he imbibed or ‘cheated’ with his carbs, his body just shut down. From hero to zero; full blackout. I realized in that moment that his struggle is real. Deadly real. And I was somewhat ashamed of my ignorance or even dismissal of it. As a relatively healthy, gym-going, balanced lifestyle individual, I couldn’t help but think, “You have diabetes. Stop eating sugar. Simple.”
Not so simple. I don’t have to tell you, but sugar is everywhere. Places you’d expect (like soda and most carbonated beverages), and that you wouldn’t (yogurt, pasta sauce, bread). Whether we know it or like it or not, we are chemically addicted. It is one molecule away from pure cocaine.
If a person decides to buy something in a grocery store (as opposed to baking at home), the options are limited and from what is available, the quality of the experience is very low. The branding/packaging resonates with the words: “I’m settling for something that I don’t really want, but that’s all there is.” The ingredients almost always include high-glycemic carbs, and/or high-glycemic, alternative sugars (like ‘natural’ maple syrup, honey or agave) or very poor-reputation sweeteners, like aspartame, splenda or maltitol. In other words, everything about buying a low- or no-sugar treat was negatively reinforcing, even depressing,and I knew that to be successful, my company had to be the antithesis of the norm. I had to switch things up.
So I started Bald Baker... and that’s when the fun began. I originally conceived of it as a ‘diabetic friendly dessert company.’ However, I quickly realized that sugar management is a much bigger challenge faced by many more people than just Type II diabetics. Through the genius of the company’s Chief Cookie Officer, our products became vegan and grain-free, and now, they’re kosher too. These groups encompass three very large demographics of people who are all on a spectrum of consciously trying to reduce their sugar intake. Soon after starting to produce our treats at FoodStarter, the wonderful Neha got wind of our products and proclaimed, “Hey! These are keto-friendly!” Since that moment, Switch has become our greatest ally and best friend.
In the year since we started producing our treats, I’ve been fortunate to meet thousands of people, all very impressed with our products. A few questions or themes continuously arise that I’d like to share with you. I believe in full transparency in everything I do, so here it goes:
The first question that always pops up is “what do you use to sweeten your products?”, to which my standard reply is: “our primary sweetener is erythritol, it comes from non-GMO cornstarch, does not cause any gastrointestinal side effects [right about now, the one asking inevitably rolls their eyes], has no calories, is no glycemic impact, and doesn’t cause tooth decay. The only quirky thing about it is that it’s only about 70% as sweet as sugar, so we top it off with a bit of stevia.” Then I hear, “oh stevia - I’m familiar with that product. Ok cool.” There’s so much more to the erythritol story. The very fact that it’s a ‘sugar alcohol’ - but neither a sugar nor an alcohol - raises a few eyebrows. Its cousin, maltitol (used to sweeten 99% of sugar-free chocolate), has well publicized side effects of a flatulent nature. So there is a natural degree of fear by association, however unfounded. When we were deep in product development, I experimented with almost every approved sugar substitute; erythritol was my second choice, behind monkfruit. Both substances bake well, have negligible glycemic impact and are readily available. Unfortunately, monkfruit is not approved for commercial usage in Canada by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). This really irks me because there are more than one well-recognized, highly-regarded products that sweeten with monkfruit - which is outright illegal. For now. It’s a case of, “I would if I could, but I can’t, so I won’t.”
The next question I inevitably get is, “ugh - I’d eat your treats but you use canola oil. I hate canola oil.” When asked why, most people don’t have an answer, other than its processed in a way they disagree with. I addressed this issue in a blog post from my website called Hard Choices (Vol 1) and here’s the excerpt:
"Canola vs. Coconut Oil. I've been going and back and forth on this one for a while now. Coconut oil has recently been the recipient of some bad press. As Huffington Post notes, it's complicated. The American Health Association (which in my opinion sways which ever way the wind blows) released a pretty scathing report that blasted coconut oil, primarily due its relatively high saturated fat content. Once the direct correlation with cardiovascular disease was established, coconut oil suddenly became vilified. Canola oil's rich supply of Vitamin E and Vitamin K cast it in a much more favorable light than coconut oil. On the business side of things, coconut oil is roughly 4x - 6x more expensive than vegetable or canola oil, both much lower in saturated fat. SFGATE did a comparison of the two and noted that, "The unsaturated fats in canola oil lower cholesterol and its omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation throughout the body." So far, it looks like canola oil for the win. BUT, unrefined coconut oil is high in antioxidants and imparts a great aroma and flavor. Our understanding of the pros and cons of saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, etc., are elementary, if not evolving constantly. Every dietitian, nutritionist, healthy and/or culinary-savvy individual I've come across has applauded my use of coconut oil. Who am I to listen to? The people who have supported my business directly; the same people I set out to understand at the beginning of the summer? Or the scientists publishing reports? Or the economics of the day-to-day ingredient purchasing?"
I wound up moving forward with canola oil based on it’s known positive attributes. Bald Baker has a commitment to quality, but every ingredient is a conscious decision that accounts for how to market the product and how to scale the company. I honestly do not believe that using canola oil is settling or lowering our standards. It’s a great ingredient, cost effective, easily accessible, less temperamental and much easier to bake with under any condition (for reasons including that it is a stable liquid at room temperature).
When you think about retailers demanding a 40% margin when they sell a product, and distributors demanding a 35% margin when they buy from the producer and sell to a retailer, there’s not much left. That’s why the vast majority of niche products stay that way - scalability is prohibitively expensive. This is one the biggest reasons why I also use artificial vanilla flavoring instead of natural vanilla extract. A few retailers have commented on my use of that specific ingredient as an inhibitor to listing. It’s unfortunate for a few reasons. The cheapest that I’ve found natural vanilla is $82.43/litre from a wholesaler. Let’s assume that I’ve missed the mark big time and that I can find it somewhere for 50% cheaper, or $41.22/litre. That’s highly unlikely, but stay with me. Compared to the surreal price of $41.22/litre, artificial vanilla is $5/litre on the expensive side, ROUGHLY ⅛ THE PRICE! Compared to the current actual cheapest price, artificial vanilla is 1/16 of the price. From what I can tell, no large company uses natural vanilla; everyone uses artificial and labels it as “vanilla flavoring” or “vanilla extract”, which is entirely misleading and the CFIA is somewhat ambiguous. If an ingredient is artificial, you must say so. However, If the total volume used is under 2% you can label with “xyz flavoring.” Just Google how many different ingredients are masked with that term. It's concerning. Nevermind that numerous taste tests conclude that there is either no difference between the two, or a slight preference towards artificial, the term natural has taken on a life of its own and people are starting to demand it. So I'm now considering removing it from our products all together.
Satisfying a sweet tooth shouldn’t be an act of remorseful indulgence. At Bald Baker, we make eating any and all of our treats a satisfying, rewarding and ultimately, fun experience. Our products let you have your cookie, and eat it too! We’ve made it fun to indulge again and we want you to enjoy every aspect of treating yourself.
I want to end on a note about our fear or rather, abhorrence of laziness. We were lucky enough to be awarded a grant from the Ontario Centers of Excellence to work with the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. The project involves optimizing the formulas for scalability with a primary focus on natural shelf life extension. In other words, I want our products to continually improve, to taste better, to last longer (using no artificial, hard-to-pronounce chemicals!) and to be even more satisfying. After all - that’s what you deserve.
If you have any questions or comments, you can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to hear from you.