Over four centuries ago, the brilliant Italian astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher and mathematician Galileo Galilei insightfully proposed that “passion is the genesis of genius.” Passion tied to a good idea motivates action. And good ideas like to grow.

For Joel Warady, interim general manager, chief sales and marketing officer, Enjoy Life Foods, Chicago, this idea was to bring truly enjoyable food to consumers living with food allergies and intolerances. The bakery sought to help this ever-increasing population  “Eat freely,” as the company motto offers.

In 2001, at the company’s inception, this idea was received by a passionately dedicated audience. And the company grew. Today, Enjoy Life—now a part of Mondelez International—is the No. 1 free-from snack and bakery brand in the world, and is the Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery 2017 “Bakery of the Year.”

Free-from trailblazers

“Founded in 2001, Enjoy Life was established to make delicious free-from foods for the ingredient-conscious consumer and the more than 76 million individuals and families with food intolerances, celiac disease and food allergies,” says Warady. Enjoy Life was the first company to receive independent gluten-free certification from the Gluten-Free Certification Organization.

The company was also an early adopter of non-GMO. “Enjoy Life helped develop the gluten-free and larger free-from category and was one of the first of its kind to receive Non-GMO Project Verification for 100 percent of its products,” says Warady. “Today, Enjoy Life continues to grow exponentially.”

In February 2015, Enjoy Life was acquired by Mondelez International and continues to operate as a separate, wholly owned entity.

Warady joined Enjoy Life in its years of early growth. “I knew that Enjoy Life Foods had carved out a special niche in an up-and-coming industry,” he says.


State-of-the-art innovations

After acquiring Enjoy Life, Mondelez quickly invested in growing the brand. “Our Jeffersonville bakery opened in September of last year,” says Warady. “The site boasts 200,000 square feet of modernized production capacity.”

Gray Construction, based in Lexington, KY, managed the design-build of the facility, located in Jeffersonville, IN, creating the largest dedicated allergen-free bakery in North America. The state-of-the-art bakery includes a tiered GMP clearance setup for plant entry and a high level of sanitary design. (See “Enjoy Life Foods Celebrates Grand Opening of Jeffersonville Bakery” on the Gray Construction website for more details.)

Enjoy Life operates up to 10 lines that often incorporate a high degree of flexibility to quickly adapt for different product runs. It’s a nimble setup that accommodates the unique needs of the many SKUs the bakery offers. It also permits easy breakout of equipment for research and development tasks to fuel the entrepreneurial spirit at the core of the Enjoy Life ethos. A wall of new rack ovens currently facilitates the baking process.

Many of the new pieces of line equipment Enjoy Life has introduced will eventually fit into subsequent levels of automation. “If you look at where we’ve invested, we’ve spent money on parts of the process where, later on, we can continue to build,” says Damon Jackson, head of operations strategy. So if volume requirements dictated the need to add a continuous oven, the automatic depositor they recently purchased would go onto that line, he notes.

The newest line in the plant was designed for chocolate products and presents the highest level of automation in the plant, including robotic pick-and-place.

Also, a form/fill/seal area facilitates secondary packaging of select Enjoy Life product lines. The bakery offers several of its products in branded retail-ready packaging.

Now that the new bakery is fully operational, the operations staff has begun tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) in an ongoing effort to progressively streamline production.

Enjoy Life has also streamlined its business via a recently introduced enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system.

The passion that surrounds Enjoy Life isn’t restricted to its customer base and top management; it’s clearly palpable across its workforce. The bakery fosters a lively, upbeat working atmosphere by piping music throughout the production space. The building also includes a workout room accessible to all employees.


Ensuring allergen-free

Working in a dedicated allergen-free bakery requires strong due diligence with ingredient suppliers. “When we first started Enjoy Life, we created a form and then did a risk rating,” says Warady. Suppliers who never have any allergens in their facility are a low risk. From there, the ratings escalate.

Like the new KPI system, this supplier-vetting system continues to evolve. “It really is a continuously improving processes,” says Tim Drebing, vice president of integrated supply chain. “We are very selective at who we use from an ingredients standpoint. They go through a rigorous evaluation and vetting process.”

The risk rating determines aspects like the level of inspection required for qualification and the frequency of audits, notes Drebing. “Once we bring the ingredients into the facility, we then do additional testing and evaluation of that product depending on the risk rating.” He notes they continue to evaluate suppliers on an ongoing basis, as well as their own testing methods. “This is a path of continuous improvement.”


The Enjoy Life lineup

Enjoy Life offers over 65 free-from products, including cookies, snack bars, chocolate bars, baking chocolate and snack bites. Warady notes that best-selling products include Crunchy Cookies and Soft Baked Cookies, Chewy Bars and Plentils (lentil-based chips).

The new ProBurst Bites, in flavors like Cinnamon Spice, Mango Habanero, Cranberry Orange and SunSeed Butter, blend astute levels of nutrition and indulgence, made with a core ingredient lineup of chocolate, roasted pumpkin seeds, rice protein and chia seeds. The snack bites contribute 6 or 7 grams of protein per serving.

“Our most recent introduction was our new flavors of Baked Chewy Bars,” says Warady. “In addition to our current product line of Caramel Apple, SunSeed Crunch and Cocoa Loco, the new flavors introduced are Caramel Blondie, Carrot Cake and Lemon Blueberry Poppy Seed.” The bars feature Enjoy Life’s proprietary Pure Life Balanced Dry Blend™ of hulled sunflower kernels, cassava flour, white pearled-grain sorghum flour and quinoa flakes.

Enjoy Life will also debut a brand-new cold-formed, clean-label snack bar in September.

As a better-for-you benefit, Enjoy Life also adds probiotics and protein to all of its baking mixes.

All Enjoy Life products are available across the U.S. as well as in a number of global markets, including Canada, South Africa, Israel, Mexico, Australia, China and Singapore. Warady notes Enjoy Life will also soon launch in select countries throughout Europe.

“We have always been a well-known brand in the natural channel,” says Warady. “As conventional supermarkets and mass retailers have grown their natural and organic offerings, Enjoy Life has seen tremendous growth in these channels. We continue to see huge opportunities in additional channels, such as club and c-store.”


The future of free-from

Warady notes that the free-from food segment is predicted to will reach $12 billion by 2020, according to Datamonitor.

“As allergies continue to dramatically rise on a global scale, our brand has become the leader in the free-from category,” says Warady. He notes that there are now more than 76 million families and individuals living with food allergies, celiac disease or gluten intolerances, or choosing free-from foods for other reasons.

Enjoy Life has an intimate relationship with its customers. For some of them, if they eat the wrong ingredient, they could die. That’s a supreme level of trust. “We have a passion for safety and excellence,” says Warady. “We serve our consumers to help make their lives better.”

With the investment of a state-of-the-art bakery to fuel production—and the efficiencies of an existing global product distribution network—Mondelez is poised to grow Enjoy Life, bringing allergy-friendly foods to an unprecedented number of consumers. This good idea is still growing—as is the passion to eat freely.

2017 ‘Bakery of the Year’ Enjoy Life Foods

Related: Exclusive interview: Q&A with Enjoy Life Foods