A conversation with with Karen McKay, General Manager, and Mike Betcher, President, Cloud 9 Gluten Free.
- with the Vancouver Chapter, Canadian Celiac Association, March 2019
Now everyone can enjoy a little piece of Cloud 9 Heaven!
Buy-Low Foods • Choices Markets • Donald’s Market • Famous Foods • Fresh St. Market Vancouver House • IGA Stores of BC • Meinhardt Fine Foods • Nesters Market • Pomme Natural Market Coquitlam • Pomme Natural Market Nanaimo • Stong’s Market
Cloud 9 has been a huge supporter of the Canadian Celiac Association – Vancouver Chapter from their inception. They have willingly supported our events and have been a major contributor to the Scotia Run– our main fundraising event. Last year, Karen ran/walked and had a great time with us and provided all runners with delicious granola bars after the run, designed our t-shirts and provided gift certificates to each of our runners. Their commitment to celiacs and the community is greatly appreciated. I met with them in February to review their strategy for Cloud 9.
I first met Mike Betcher in 2012 at a meeting introducing the Canadian Celiac Association’s Gluten-Free Certification program to Vancouver Chapter members. Mike and his former partners had opened a gluten-free bakery and production facility and were very interested in the certification program and the ensuring that the baked goods and mixes they produced were safe for celiacs. As a result of their commitment, Cloud 9 was the first dry mix manufacturing plant in BC to be GFCP certified. They take their responsibilities very seriously and like us, view gluten as a “poison”. They care that their products meet the highest standards and have proven this with their investment in the business.
Their motto, “gluten-free without compromise” meant that we celiacs could enjoy gluten-free baked goods that matched or were better than the gluten counterparts in taste, texture and flavour. And their dedication to achieving certifications for their blending plant, meant that the promise of great taste is backed up with a commitment to achieving the highest levels of food safety and quality.
The Cloud 9 Specialty Bakery
The bakery was initially set up at 1025 Royal Avenue, New Westminster and started out as a test kitchen where they could ensure the various recipes and flour blends were tested and proven to people like us. They welcome our feedback to improve what they offer and are always looking for new products that we would like. As well, they wanted to create a space that showed their customers that. like their packaging, their bakery could be just as creative. The bakery is 100% gluten-free but does also uses nuts and eggs (allergens) so customers are forewarned about possible allergen cross-contamination.
The bakery has been successful with many loyal customers leading Mike and Karen, to believe that there are opportunities to expand into other communities in the Lower Mainland. The challenge is where they would best fit. Customer input would be greatly appreciated.
Production Facility – Cloud 9 Gluten Free Co-packers
The dry mix production and packing initially started at the bakery, however, growth and a desire to extend the brand meant a new facility was needed. The blending plant is a cornerstone of the business and Mike is very particular about its operation and the quality of product that it makes for their customers -so it is run with the utmost attention to cleanliness and strict adherence to a controlled environment that Mike both maintains and works in.
Today, not only are they a member of the Gluten-Free Certification Program but have attained a significant number of certifications including: SAI Global, global quality assurance, HACCP and food safety handling; Fraser Valley Organic Producers Association, organic certification program accepted in many parts of the world; Kosher Check, Non-GMO Project Verified and Costco certified.
Because of their attention to detail and certifications, the facility is co-packing product for other companies either as a private label brand or sourcing ingredients, blending and packaging for mid-size companies and start-ups. Examples of other companies currently producing their gluten-free products there are: Healthy Options of the Philippines, Co-op’s, Gold d’Or brand PURE, and more recently work for Epicure.
Grains, nuts and seeds are all high-risk foods for gluten cross contamination and Cloud9 is set up to handle these products in their GFCP facility.
Brand – Cloud 9
Cloud 9 has developed a strong, high quality product and strong brand. They have developed this through their other company, B3 Communications and use this like an in-house agency with full capabilities to design and develop packaging that is striking and functional. In the future, they would like to assist smaller start-ups in packaging and co-packing their products.
The investment in the business to date, although substantial, is nothing compared to the investment required to go nationally. The estimated costs to expand nationally is a huge undertaking but a move that Karen and Mike see as a natural progression of the business. They are currently in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan and are looking to expand into the eastern Canadian market with the help of their broker.
With their local retail stores including Choices, Save-On-Foods, Buy Low Foods, Nesters, and several smaller independent, they are now available in Winners, Home Sense and Marshalls across Canada.
Currently in research and development are several health focused products, with reduced sugars and added natural fibre. Lowering sugar content by using Stevia or Monk fruit as sugar substitutes are all being tested.
Cloud 9 has perfected, pastry, pie crust, and pizza mixes but are now being tested with the addition of different protein flours, starches and binding agents, adding protein is huge – hemp protein is showing great possibilities. In addition, interesting starches and binding agents are all being considered as part of the development of new and improved product offerings.
All products are made with pride with no added preservatives, colouring, soy or artificial flavours. By carefully formulating their products, they naturally have a shelf life of 18 months. What comes across clearly in talking with Karen and Mike is that they care! They do not use ingredients simply because they are cheaper.
What they would really appreciate from the celiac community is input as to what we want. They are very open to suggestions for new products and now have the infrastructure to produce them.