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Published January 14, 2013, 10:28 AM

One-to-one replacement

Central North Dakota firm launches tasty and nutritious gluten-free flour.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — A proud Miller Family Farms of Denhoff, N.D., and its related Premium Gold Flax Products & Processing Inc. have something entirely different for the world — a gluten-free flour product that is nutritious, delicious and easy to use.

Is that a big deal?

It sure is if you have celiac disease — a gluten-intolerance, which cuts out wheat, rye, barley and traditional oats from your diet, says Deborah Miller, a co-owner of the company. And it’s increasingly a big deal if you simply want to cut down on gluten.

The Millers’ new product — aptly described as Flax and Whole Grain All-Purpose Flour — is certified gluten-free and has been on the market for several weeks. It’ll soon be available in both local and national chain markets.

A one-to-one benefit

“It’s an absolute one-to-one replacement for all-purpose wheat flour,” says Deborah, who runs the company with her husband, Randy. “Our standards are quite high. We go by the European standards for the celiac and gluten-free. That means less than five parts per million, which is really good news for those who have the disorder, and their families.”

Miller was showing off the new product in the North Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Holiday Showcases throughout the state just before Christmas.

She and Premium Gold will take the product to an even headier stage when they attend the 38th Winter Fancy Food Show Jan. 20 to 22 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The event brings together 17,000 members of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade to see more than 80,000 products, shown by 1,300 exhibitors from more than 35 countries. The event is billed as the West Coast’s largest food and beverage event, involving 15 educational seminars, as well as tastings and tours.

Deborah says this will be the Millers’ third appearance at the show, and this year, the new flour is a contender for the organization’s Sofi Award, which stands for specialty outstanding food innovation. Winners are selected by a national panel of specialty food retailers, foodservice professionals and journalists, and announced months later.

Family’s selling point

While the products are important, Deborah says customers also want to know the family’s story and its commitment to quality. The Miller family makes products on its farm near Denhoff, which is about 23 miles east and 46 miles north of Bismarck, N.D., in Sheridan County.

Miller’s German-Russian ancestors came to Sheridan County in 1900. His grandparents, Jacob and Katherine Miller, bought the place in 1906. The couple raised 11 of their own children and five more grandchildren — a total of 16 kids, including his father, Lawrence. Randy was born in 1953 and met Deborah while doing construction work in Miles City, Mont.

Randy and Deborah bought the place in 1975 and went into farming full-time in 1977. They have two children, Jordan and Lindsay. Jordan focuses on the organic end of the farming. He and his wife, Tasha, have three sons. Lindsay (Miller) Siebenhaler lives in Eau Claire, Wis., where she is a critical care nurse. She also has dietician credentials and does some consulting and promotion for Premium Gold.

The Millers raise “flax, of course” and wheat, barley, soybeans, corn, sweet clover and sometimes sunflower and millet. “Ag is a big part of who we are and what we do,” Deborah says.

The Millers started developing their flax-related value-added products and incorporated the processing business separately from Miller Family Farm in 2002. They built a new plant in 2005 and 2006, when they took their products to the national stage.

Randy is the president and “miller extraordinaire.” He created the naturally shelf-stable milling technique for flaxseed, without additives or preservatives. Their proprietary “true cold-milled process” gives an extended shelf life of two months after opening, so refrigeration is not required. Without the milling technique, the grains would give the product a three- to six-month shelf life after opening.

Deborah describes herself as the gofer, the jack-of-all-trades — the “mad scientist in the country kitchen” — and officially vice president. They employ about a dozen people.

“You start with the top-quality seeds,” she says. They process their own flax and some from contracted or quality-specified providers.

The start of something big

Premium Gold sells four main products in 14 applications or packages, including retail and food service sizes. Its facilities are Food and Drug Administration-certified, kosher and organic-certified and inspected. “We offer 100 percent product of the U.S.A. and we are proud members of Pride of Dakota Products,” Deborah says.

The company has been exporting to Europe since 2006 to the high-end organic and natural foods markets. On the retail end, it supplies flax to GNC worldwide, two of the largest regions of Costco, and are in three of the largest distribution centers with the retail industry Nature’s Best, KeHe, Tree of Life, and Unify/Unify Select, Deborah says. The company supplies ingredients to the nutraceutical industry — milled flaxseed and flax hull lignans. They have strong immune system enhancement properties.

Deborah says the new flour project started when she was working on some cookies in 2008.

“When I was doing these seven batches of cookies from my grandmother’s recipes, I was discovering that I was using wheat as the fifth, sixth and seventh ingredient, instead of the first ingredient,” which you normally would do, she says. “With the flavor profile, people who ate them said, ‘Are you kidding? You’re not using wheat in this? This is phenomenal.’ We also discovered that it was extending the shelf life.”

The packaging for the new flour arrived in mid-September 2012 so the product is just getting into circulation. The web sales have been going “gangbusters” because of favorable reviews from the Living Without magazine, a publication for celiac patients, according to Deborah.

“We’ve been selling by the cases from our website,” she says. “Now we’re going to go on to Amazon, and TJ Maxx and Marshalls, Home Sense Home Goods and Winners in Canada. It’s set up for a whole line of chains coming in after Jan. 1.”

Even before that, the product gained recognition at a Natural Products Association convention in Las Vegas. Ten days before the event, Miller sent an assortment of baked goods with the new flour — cookies, muffins, bars and brownies — to be served to show-goers to demonstrate the shelf life.

It was the buzz of the show.

Cooks and bakers know that a one-to-one replacement is impressive because it doesn’t have to be adjusted in recipes in order for the products to come out. Also, the flour has to taste good and be nutritious, Miller says.

“We’re using a finely milled flax flour that we created that a lot of the companies won’t touch, either because they’re too expensive or they are difficult to work with. That challenge made it a great task to pursue.”

Miller says she has family members who are either diagnosed with celiac disease or have allergies, so she worked to develop a product that worked for them, but also was nutritious. “Bottom-line, most of the gluten-free flours (on the market) don’t have a proper balance of calcium or niacin or the B vitamins which you have in wheat,” she says.

The company sold out of its new flour product at each of the showcases.

“That shows there’s a real need for a nutritious, good-tasting product,” she says.