The name Udi has been a common word in my vocabulary lately, what with the blueberry muffins and pizza crusts I’ve been consuming on a daily basis, and the correspondence I’ve shared over possible internships for the undergrads I teach. Plus it’s just fun to say.
On Tuesday, I had a chance to speak with Devin Anderson, president of Udi’s Healthy Foods, as he was on his way to the airport to jet to Brazil. Anderson actually majored in journalism in college before deciding it wasn’t for him, so he was very gracious and a delight to talk to. We talked the origin of Udi’s, its prominence in the gluten free community, and just where the company is headed in the next few months.
The Story of Udi’s
The story of Udi’s is a bit of a long one, especially if you consider that the company has only been nationwide for about two years. First off, Udi is a real person. His name is Udi Baron, and he’s a well-known sandwich and business man in Denver, the birthplace of Udi’s, where he has a catering company and about five restaurants.
“Udi is a wonderful foodie,” Anderson said. “He has a wonderful taste imagination. His food is fresh, organic, natural and wonderful.”
Somehow Master Baker Chad White, whose specialty was making gluten free baked goods taste like normal baked goods, light and airy instead of heavy and dense, made contact with Udi the business man.
“He had tried selling his food to various places, who said he didn’t have a big enough market. Udi had a sense this might be special, so he hired him in 2008, created a series of items, and then shopped them…,” said Anderson.
The pair started at the Rocky Mountain area grocery King Soopers, where the products took off. In the first half of 2009 the pair started expanding through Denver area Whole Foods, and eventually to Whole Foods around the country. Now Udi’s is available in well over 3,500 stores nationwide, including Kroger, Publix and countless local health food stores.
The Udi’s Philosophy
From the beginning, Udi’s has seen the fostering of a relationship with the gluten free community as a top priority.
“We make a concerted effort – we have a number of people who engage and reach out through social media and grassroots,” said Anderson. And it’s paying off. “As a result, we have a large and rapidly growing group of Udi’s fans.”
Udi’s has over 100,000 fans on Facebook and 4,000 Twitter followers.
Part of the advantage to having gluten free food that tastes like regular food, Anderson mentioned, is that it contributes to the feeling of normalcy Celiac patients often attest is missing in their lives.
“One difference with Udi’s [compared to other companies] is that the whole family can enjoy our products. It looks and feels like regular food, which contributes to that normalcy,” said Anderson. You don’t want to have to sit there with your own plate all the time. That’s an added advantage.”
Many stores at which Udi’s is available sell the breads and muffins at ambient temperatures in the bakery section, further contributing to that feeling of normalcy. But some stores, like the ones here in Gainesville, sell them in the freezer section to preserve freshness longer.
The Future of Udi’s
Udi’s has grown at an incredible rate since it went national only a couple of years ago, and doesn’t show signs of stopping.
Their product line of breads, muffins, bagels, pizza crusts and more is also growing. Hamburger and hot dog buns, whole grain breads and other product development is being kept under wraps. But Anderson was happy to announce one surprise due this summer.
“We’re currently in consumer testing for frozen pizzas in four flavors. They’re totally gluten free with the best tasting gluten free toppings, prepared in a gluten free facility. So we’re very excited about that.”
Anderson hinted that the summer will be a happy time for Udi’s customers in more ways than one, alluding to new breads that are “unique and flavorful, with a focus on nutrition.”
And the reason Udi’s tastes so good? So different from the gluten free products out there? We may never know.
“It’s an ancient Chinese secret,” Anderson said, laughing. “It’s something we do that makes a difference. More than one thing. And we guard that secret like Fort Knox.”