By Jamie Siebrase | Oct 16, 2017
Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Gluten-free bread
"Americans love to eat bread," says Canyon Bakehouse Josh Skow, who found a way to capitalize on that information shortly after his wife, Christi, was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007.
"We were introduced to the gluten-free lifestyle, which really changed our lives," Skow says. A year after his wife's diagnosis, Skow -- who had founded three companies prior to Canyon -- linked up with an old friend, Canyon co-founder Ed Miknevicius, who was doing some gluten-free consulting work.
Aside from Udi's Gluten Free -- another iconic Colorado brand -- most gluten-free breads on the market then were lackluster. "It's really hard to make bread without gluten," Skow says, calling the manufacturing process "a combination of science and art."
Miknevicius -- who has retired from the company -- is to thank for Canyon's recipes and its inaugural loaves: Mountain White, Cinnamon Raisin, and Seven Grain, which is still the company's top seller.
"Some products are gluten-free, but they're filled with garbage," Skow points out. He and Miknevicius wanted to produce allergy-friendly food that was good for consumers, made from clean, non-GMO ingredients. "For our breads, we use 100 percent whole-grain ingredients," Skow says, acknowledging a coinciding artisanal trend in traditional bread making.
Canyon products aren't just good for you; they're delicious, too -- and that's no small feat in the gluten-free baking biz. "Gluten-free gone bad can be really dry," says Skow. Miknevicius developed recipes that mimic the taste and texture of wheat-based breads; the result is soft, moist slices that hold together for sandwiches.
As far as the physical bread making goes, the process is "very traditional in terms of mixing, proofing, baking, cooling, and packaging," Skow says. Of course, some aspects of production are specific to gluten-free food: dough handling, for example. "That's where the proprietary part is," he says.
By 2009, Skow and Miknevicius opened shop in a small-scale commercial space in Loveland. Two years later, though, they'd outgrown their digs, and relocated to a larger facility.
"We've grown campus-style," Skow explains. In addition to its main bakery, Canyon utilizes the building across the street, plus two nearby office spaces. But come 2018, company operations will merge, this time in Johnstown, neighboring Loveland on its southeast border.
Canyon's new facility is 165,000 square feet, and will be able to accommodate the company's projected growth and its desire to innovate. "We want the next best products to come from Canyon Bakehouse," Skow says.
Last year, that was Canyon's Heritage line, an artisanal-sized version of its original loaves. Gluten-free bagels were released in 2016, too, and have been the company's fastest growing product. "People who don't need to eat gluten-free eat our bagels," Skow says.
Canyon also sells gluten-free hamburger and hot dog buns, and a brownie bite -- its "first poke into the sweet goods category," as Skow puts it.
Skow and Miknevicius caught a big break early on, when they signed on with their first customer, Whole Foods Markets in the Rocky Mountain region. "We were in maybe 100 stores by year two; today we are in 10,000," says Skow, noting that his products are sold nationally, in all 50 states, plus Canada. Nationally, Canyon is focused on grocery, but the company is pushing into food service in Colorado.
Since inception, Canyon has experienced solid year-over-year growth. "And our teams have done a good job managing that growth," Skow adds. Sure, good companies are definitely driven by great products. "But the two ingredients for our company are the products and the people."
Challenges: Because Colorado's economy is so robust it's been tough finding enough good people to grow the company. "We constantly have new jobs, and it's a challenge adding enough good people to our team," says Skow, adding, "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Opportunities: Canyon products are currently sold in about 10,000 stores. But Skow things there are upwards of 30,000 U.S. stores where his breads could be shelved. "So there's a lot of growth left," he says.
Needs: "We're pretty covered in terms of capital, space, and sales," says Skow. More time in the day would be nice, and Canyon is also looking to expand its labor force as it grows.