Heartland's Finest - A Gluten-Free Alternative
March 29, 2006
Heartland Ingredient, LLC is a company that markets, produces and processes dry whole beans to make nutritious, gluten-free products under its brand, Heartlands Finest. Jim LeCureux, general manager and Brent Sorenson, director of operations, both had worked together on past value added efforts and they came together again to develop a product using dry beans. We wanted to give the consumer a good product and with beans grown here in the Northarvest area and in Michigan, it was natural that we wanted to do something with beans. They are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants and with the recently revised Food Pyramid promoting bean consumption, we knew we could make it work, says Sorenson.
Heartland's Finest processing and shipping facility, located at the University of Minnesot in Crookston, MN, processes dry whole beans to make nutritious, gluten-free products that especially appeal to consumers with celiac disease.
How It Began
In 1999, farmers in Michigan were looking for alternative uses for dry beans and had looked at a number of different opportunities. One opportunity came when LeCureux met with researchers at the University of Nebraska. The University had done some work with a celiac support group and knew the group was looking for products with more protein and fiber. Beans fit that profile so LeCureux and Sorenson, who both represent bean growers, decided to pursue this venture. The University of Nebraska developed a survey and the Celiac Sprue Associations sent the surveys to 1,200 of its members throughout the country. Over 40% responded indicating the desired characteristics or traits in products they use. Beans fit those traits because beans are gluten-free, important to those with celiac disease.
Heartland's Finest uses pinto and navy beans to produce their flour products. By using bean flour, bakers acan eliminate gums and gelatins and as a result, get a better rise and texture in the bread.
Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue, is a genetic disorder that affects approximately 3 million Americans. This digestive condition is triggered by consuming protein gluten which is found in bread, pasta, cookies and other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. Celiac disease (CD) occurs in people who have a susceptibility to gluten intolerance. There is no cure for CD but one can effectively manage it through changes in diet. The only acceptable treatment for celiac disease is following a strict gluten-free diet for life. What makes this difficult is that there are many hidden sources of gluten found in the ingredients of many processed foods.
That is where Heartlands Finest products fit in. Our products were designed and developed for those that are gluten intolerant, says Sorenson.
Sorenson and LeCureux contacted Northern Crop Institute (NCI) in Fargo, ND who developed their cereal and pasta products. With NCIs help, along with support from AURI in Crookston, MN, USDA and University of MN Crookston, Heartland Ingredient LLC was formed. Heartland Ingredients LLC is currently owned by FarmConnect, a producer-owned organization in northwest Minnesota, with members from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, the Michigan Edible Bean Coop and individual investors. Northarvests pinto beans are sent to Iowa where they are milled. The bean powder is shipped to Minnesota and processed. The final products are packaged and blended at the Crookston, MN facility for packaging and shipping. The help we have had is tremendous. Working with the different organizations was instrumental in getting Heartlands Finest off the ground. It was a great collaboration. Sorenson stated.
Gluten-free Ceros, a nutritious, flavorful and and wholesome cereal made from pinto beans shown here in single serving packages. Flavors include original, raspberry and cinnamon.
Heartlands Finest currently uses pinto beans from the Northarvest region to make cereal products and navy beans from Michigan to make their pasta line. Both beans are used in their flour products. Currently on the grocery shelves are products made from whole dry bean flour and corn such as macaroni and cheese, elbow macaroni, linguini, spaghetti, rotini and ziti. These are all gluten-free. The customers talk about them being products that look and taste like products they use to eat, says Sorenson. We recently got some high marks from some Italians that have CD. And when you can please an Italian with good pasta, you must be doing something right says Sorenson with a grin. We have also worked with different celiac groups and all these products have received high praise.
One of the celiac groups that have given its approval is the Celiac Sprue Association. This organization recently gave Heartlands Finest their CSA Certification, which means it has been tested, reviewed and received its final approval. This indicates that Heartlands Finest products are gluten-free, and provides an additional, independent level of security for customers. The CSA logo will soon appear on all packaging which indicates that there are no traces of wheat, barley, rye or oats in Heartland products.
The newest products for Heartland are Gluten-Free Ceros which provides nutritious, flavorful and wholesome cereals made from pinto beans. Flavors include original, raspberry and cinnamon. Ceros also comes in small single serving packages, which are great for an after school snack. Currently, the company is working on a bread mix and lasagna. LeCureux says one baker in Detroit has been using their bean flour to make navy bean bread for over a year. It is their top selling gluten-free bread. By using the bean flour, the baker can eliminate gums and gelatins and as a result, he gets a better rise and texture in the bread.
Currently, Heartlands Finest products are in 35 states. LeCureux frequently meets with celiac support groups and grocery and health food stores in different states to introduce their product lines.
LeCureux says that they attend as many food shows that they can. Heartlands booth is always full of consumers looking for a good gluten-free product, either for themselves or for family and friends. Samples of the products are given out to attendees and after tasting the product, their response is terrific. It is quite powerful when someone comes up to you at a convention and says, Thank you for giving my child hope! That is something that stays with you for a long time, says Sorenson. LeCureux agrees. It gives you a good feeling when someone comes up to you, thanking you for making a product for them. We are not just out to sell another product. We are actually trying to help people.
To find store locations that carry Heartlands Finest products or to check out some of their recipes, go to their web site at www.heartlandsfinest.com.