A Bite of Sun
When SunWise Foods president and part-owner Bill Daggett transitioned from active duty military and moved back to Minnesota about five years ago, he had no experience in the food industry. But when he heard about the idea from Red River Commodities for a SunButter sandwich, he decided to take the concept and run with it.
With food allergies on the rise, Daggett had a hunch the idea had some traction. A friend he knew while living in Colorado had a son with peanut allergies. Watching his friend’s small child practice injecting himself with epinephrine “just in case” he was accidentally exposed to peanuts really opened Daggett’s eyes to the reality of food allergies.
This awareness gave Daggett the confidence to take on the challenge of producing and marketing the SunButter and jelly sandwich. Living peanut-free or hearing of schools that have banned peanuts seems drastic to some, but many people who live in constant fear of dangerous allergic reactions to peanuts live that reality every day. The SunButter and jelly sandwich produced by SunWise Foods offers an alternative and safe choice for people with peanut allergies. SunWise sandwiches have 10 grams of protein, no trans fats, one-third less saturated fat than peanut butter, and provide 20% of daily recommended fiber intake.
The company’s slogan is “Go Nuts for No Nuts” — and apparently people have heeded this advice. Daggett reports that demand is high. He characterizes it as “through the roof” and continuing to grow. No question his instinct about this good idea was right on the mark. The partnership with Red River Commodities has produced a successful business venture for both entities.
Daggett recently provided some insight into the company’s popular sandwich.
— Sonia Mullally
Where did the idea for SunWise Foods sandwiches come from?
About five years ago, I moved back to Minnesota from Colorado Springs. My wife is a preschool teacher and had students with peanut allergies. Also, I had some friends whose children were living with the allergies. These experiences had really opened my eyes to the peanut free world.
So when my father mentioned that someone in his Rotary Club was talking about a “peanut butter-less” sandwich, I told him I would be very interested in meeting that person. Dan Hofland and Bob Majkrzak at Red River Commodities, the makers of SunButter, had approached many sandwich manufacturers trying to get someone to make a sandwich. Most had decided the market wasn’t large enough. We didn’t know how big the market was, but we knew we could help simplify people’s lives by provided a product that was delicious and peanut-free. With that in mind, and with help from lots of people, we decided to take a crack at it.
Can you explain the production system (how/where are the sandwiches assembled and packaged)?
Everything is done at our peanut- and tree nut-free facility in Perham, Minn. Bread is shipped in about four times a week. We have an assembly line of about 10-12 people, working in two shifts daily to produce sandwiches. The sandwich is assembled on a conveyor belt and ran through a crimping machine which seals the ingredients and removes the crust. The sandwiches then are immediately packaged individually and frozen. We ship out pallets of finished product about twice a week.
Where do you source your ingredients — specifically, the sunflower seed butter?
The primary ingredient in our product is SunButter, the sunflower seed-based spread made in Fargo, N.D., at SunGold Foods (Red River Commodities). The bread is made locally by Pan-O-Gold in St. Cloud, Minn. The jelly comes from out of state.
Explain how you came up with a marketing strategy to approach schools with your product?
The first thing we did was identify a need for the product. With the growing prevalence of peanut allergies in children, more schools are looking for alternatives to traditional peanut butter, with many schools even banning peanut-based products altogether. That’s where our product comes in. Schools need a product that children with peanut-allergies can eat, while the children without allergies will eat. Through extensive taste tasting and product design, we came up with something that works on both levels. The demand is through the roof right now.
How many schools is the product offered in and in what parts of the county?
We are in roughly 100 schools around the country in about 20 states. The largest interest is in California, Texas and Utah thus far, but we also ship our product to schools and distributors from Alaska to Georgia, including the Dakotas and Minnesota.
How do the peanut-free movement and allergen-free community continue to create demand?
Parents of kids with any type of allergy know how serious these issues are. The demand for a nut-free product that still tastes great and is nutritious is always in demand. Vigilant parents, along with schools, recognizing the seriousness of nut allergies only drives demand further. Plus, word-of-mouth via the Internet community helps, too. We have had many food bloggers and allergy groups write about us and recommending our product to their followers.
Right now, customers can order sandwiches delivered to their door. Is your product also available in retail stores (i.e., supermarkets, big box stores)?
We are planning to go into retail soon. We have our retail packaging and distribution lined up already, and the demand is certainly there. Parents ask us all the time when we are going to be available in stores. It’s definitely on the horizon.
You currently offer sunflower seed butter and grape jelly. Any plans for other flavors in the future?
As of right now, the sky is the limit. We have found grape to be the most appealing to kids; but certainly different flavors are something we have always kept in the back of our minds as we continue to grow.
What’s on the horizon for your company?
We plan on going into retail soon, selling our product in stores around the country. We have other nut-free products we are researching that we would like to start producing when the time is right. Also, it’s rare to find a completely nut-free facility these days, so we have been approached by other food manufacturers to produce their nut-free products in our plant, which we are looking at as well.
For more information on SunWise Foods and their SunButter sandwiches go to their website at www.sunwisefoods.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SunWiseFoods.
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