Ener-G Foods, Inc. is a family owned business located in Seattle, Washington. Purchased by Sam M. Wylde, founder of Sam Wylde Flour Co., Inc in 1962. Ener-G Foods has evolved to become one of the largest producers devoted to special diet foods in the United States.
How we got to where we are today.
In 1887, Sam M. Wylde's grandfather started the first flourmill in Seattle. It was built to supply export flour to the orient as well as supply flour to the people of Washington State. Since it only took one or two days work per week to supply Washington State, the Novelty Flour Mill was basically an export mill.
After World War I, Sam M. Wylde's father and uncles joined the family business and learned the milling industry.
Meanwhile, Sam M. Wylde traveled the country and the world working at everything from elevator salesman to a ships' steward. Returning to Seattle after World War II, Sam Wylde was one of the founders of Brodie Restaurant and Hotel Supply. Today it is known as Brodie/Dohrmann and can be found thriving on Elliott Avenue in Seattle. Sam M. Wylde's father took ill and Sam left Brodie to help run the family mill.
Shortly after World War II, a discovery was made that revolutionized the milling industry. It was found that if 4-5 pounds of air pressure were applied to wheat flour, it could be fluidized and pumped through pipes like oil or other liquids. Soon countries like China, Japan and the Philippines were able to buy wheat flour shipped in oil tankers instead of wheat flour in bags. Needless to say, this changed the Novelty Flour Mill forever.
When Sam M. Wylde's father died his uncles, Norman and Alan, decided to close the mill. Unemployed, Sam M. Wylde started Sam Wylde Flour Co. to distribute flour and bakery items to local bakeries. The fleet of trucks bearing Sam Wylde's name ranged all over Western Washington, from the Canadian border to as far south as Southern California. Fisher Mills, Inc, bought Sam Wylde Flour Co., of Seattle. Fisher Mills later sold Sam Wylde Flour Mills to a Dutch company, Puratos. Puratos has changed the name of Sam Wylde Flour Mills to Puratos. Fisher Mills no longer exists.
When Sam M. Wylde purchased Ener-G Foods, Inc. in 1962, we were little more than a two-person operation in which all packing was done by hand. Shortly after acquiring Ener-G Foods, Sam was approached by Dr. Scribner of the University of Washington. Dr. Scribner, known worldwide as the father of dialysis, is credited with inventing what we commonly call the kidney machine.
Meeting with Dr. Scribner and his dietitian, Sondra Aker, it was explained that there was an acute shortage of dialysis machines and they desperately needed a low protein bread. The University of Washington had one dialysis machine for thousands of kidney patients. Since the kidneys convert protein to uric acid, if the protein intake were restricted, the kidneys would not have to work so hard, hence would require less frequent dialysis.
Sam M. Wylde and Ener-G Foods worked on low protein bread for about a year before arriving at an acceptable result. Made with a base of wheat starch it was low in protein, sodium, potassium and phosphorus, therefore acceptable for a low protein diet. It was also discovered that by restricting protein intake, progression of renal failure could be slowed even for patients on the dialysis unit. Low-Protein foods developed by Ener-G Foods also address several other dietary disorders.¹
Sometime later, Dr. Cyrus Rubin, inventor of the Rubin Biopsy Tube and professor of Gastroenterology at the University of Washington sent his dietitian, Elaine Hartsook (later to become Elaine Hartsook, Ph.D) to us with a request for a gluten-free bread with one restriction, 'I don't want any wheat starch'. Also at about the same time Sam M. Wylde developed prostate cancer and Sam Wylde III, his son, having completed his MBA in Oregon moved back to Seattle to assist his father with both Ener-G Foods and Sam Wylde Flour Co., Sam Wylde III began working nights on developing gluten-free Breads and other products without the use of wheat starch.
What is gluten?
Gluten is one of the miracles of nature. It has the property of becoming elastic when kneaded or mixed. It is this elasticity that traps the gas given off when yeast ferments or baking powders react that makes breads and cakes rise. In the USA, historically a gluten-free diet means a diet free of wheat, rye and barley. However, no specific USA legislation defining ìGluten-Freeî exists. In Canada a gluten-free diet is defined by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as a diet free of wheat, rye, oats and barley. Foods sold in Canada are not allowed any detectable gluten. In Europe a gluten-free diet generally means a diet which complies with the United Nations Codex Alimentarius Standard for Gluten-Free Foods. The Codex Alimentarius Standard allows wheat starch in Gluten-Free Foods, provided the gluten in such foods does not exceed CODEX guidelines. Such guidelines are periodically adjusted to comply with new scientific findings. Legislation passed in The USA in 2004 requires the US Food and Drug Administration to define ìgluten-freeî and to make regulations enforcing the new ìgluten-freeî standard.
In every cereal chemist's laboratory, there is a device fitted to a small mixer that measures the resistance of the dough to the mixer. As the dough containing gluten is mixed, this resistance increases until it reaches its' maximum resistance. This 'maximum' is determined by various factors including quality of the gluten and speed of the mixer.
Why eliminate gluten from the diet?
An amazing discovery was made in Holland during World War II. People who had been ill their entire lives suddenly became well. This intrigued Dr. Willem Dicke, a Dutch pediatrician, who began researching the chain of events. The studies determined that the one drastic change in their diet was the elimination of wheat, rye, oats and barley, all of which had been seized for use by the German armies. The Dutch population was living on bread made with flour ground from tulip bulbs. Further research indicated that the gluten in these grains slowly destroyed the villi, which line the walls of the small intestine. Once the villi were sufficiently damaged, the patient suffered from malabsorption, unable to obtain any nutrients from the foods that were ingested. It was found that by eliminating gluten from the diet, the villi would regenerate themselves and the patient would begin digesting their foods properly. The disease is called celiac sprue or non-tropical sprue. Once thought to be a hereditary disease afflicting persons of Northern European and Judaic descent, celiac disease is now known to affect many other ethnic groups including Mediterranean, African and Middle Eastern peoples. Once estimated to affects one in 2000 in the United States, it is now thought to be much more common≤. Once celiac sprue disease is confirmed, the only treatment is maintenance of a gluten-free diet for life.
Sounds simple - right?
The common response is, 'I just won't eat bread.' Easy enough, however, gluten is found in most of the products we consume everyday. Essentially, everything with wheat, rye, barley, and all their derivatives must be eliminated. So breads, pastas, cakes, pastries, cereal, cookies, donuts, pizza, etc, etc...Difficult at first, adaption is possible but, you must also consider this: many commercially prepared foods available on the grocery shelves contain obvious glutens (wheat, barley, rye, etc.) and then there are foods with 'hidden' glutens like HVP. What is HVP? Short for hydrolyzed vegetable protein, its source can be cornstarch, or more commonly wheat starch. Now all of a sudden, it seems everything is taboo for your new diet. Panic sets in; it seems there is nothing you left to eat except fruits and vegetables. The initial shock of this new dietary lifestyle can get overwhelming, but with time, patience, acceptance, and knowledge it becomes much easier.
A common complaint that we have heard over the years from the many physicians that we come in contact with is, 'My patients won't stay on the gluten-free diet, they can't find anything they like to eat'.
By 1978, Ener-G Foods had successfully developed and marketed one gluten-free bread and one low protein bread that were acceptable substitutes for the 'real thing'. We also mixed and packaged a number of baking mixes for a variety of diets. Since our gluten-free bread eliminated wheat, rye, oats and barley, persons afflicted with allergies to any of those grains could utilize these breads in their diets. Unwittingly, we had joined the allergy foods market, which would generate considerable interest throughout the eighties, nineties and now into the 21st century.
The 1980's saw burgeoning American interest in health, diet and exercise. The public and the medical community determined that diet played a significant role in a person's health and well being and that some ailments were in fact allergies to foods. With that in mind, we set about developing various products suitable for allergy-restricted diets. Today we have a wide array of products designed to meet the needs of those individuals who must eliminate certain foods from their diets. Included in those products are several milk substitutes for those allergic to milk protein or milk lactose, many products suitable for the elimination of wheat from the diet and our best seller, an egg substitute suitable for cooking and baking which contains no part of the egg in its composition.
Where can one find these products?
Availability of special diet foods in the mass market have always, traditionally, been limited. Because we market primarily to individuals on restrictive diets, we are generally categorized as a 'health foods' or 'natural foods'. Thus, majority of our products can be found in independent health food stores and in the natural food aisles of grocery stores. Customers can order direct from Ener-G Foods, either by mail order, phone, or shop online from our website. We have obtained distribution across Canada, Puerto Rice, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong. Additionally, we offer such services as a free library of articles, diet resources, recipes, and support group listings on our website, www.ener-g.com. We heavily support the many dietary support groups located throughout the country as well as meetings with physicians, retailers and others at conventions nationwide to promote our products.
Where are we going?
Ener-G Foods is a family-owned business. After Sam M. Wylde retired, Sam Wylde III, took over as the president of Ener-G Foods. Sam Wylde III has been with Ener-G Foods since the late 1970s and did most of the product development enabling Ener-G Foods to switch from low-gluten, wheat-starch based products to truly gluten-free products. With an MBA under his belt, he is involved in all aspects of the Company, from R&D to customer service. Marie Wylde, the wife of Sam Wylde III has Celiac Disease and contributes much expertise through her experience, fluency in several languages, and knowledge in gluten-free baking. Mrs. Helen Wylde the surviving wife of Sam M. Wylde, remains on Ener-G's Board of Directors.
The close knit family relationship also extends to the Ener-G staff. Ener-G Foods is heavily dependent on its employees: Cely Cleto, our Office Manager, is invaluable. Cely is proficient, organized, and has top notch accounting skills. Jerry Colburn, our Sales Manager, has over 20 years experience in sales. Jerry brings originality, knowledge, and enthusiasm to our Marketing efforts. Kathy Hoffman, has been with Ener-G Foods for many years, she contributes confidence and know-how as our Senior Customer Service Representative: servicing wholesale accounts, reception, and great warmth and understanding. Sabina Milovic, our Purchasing and Inventory Control Manager, applies her systematic talent and rationalistic intelligence to keep cost down while enabling production to run efficiently. Nermina Jendruh, unruffled under fire, brings calmness as the Customer Service Manager. Marie Wylde having Celiac Sprue herself offers priceless personal insight on product research and development. Marie once owned a Gluten-Free Catering Company in Montreal named "Harmony". As a bonus, we also receive un-inhibited feedback and advice concerning Ener-G products from Sam Wylde III and Marie's two children, Samuel and Alexander.
Our entire staff take pride in retaining the original commitment to customer service, which has always been our trademark in this industry. It is this dedication, along with an intense interest in technology, that allows Ener-G to continue into the 21st century, after being in business for over 46 years. Our commitment to the special diet market includes investments in environmentally friendly packaging equipment, state of the art computer equipment, HACCP Certification and most of all, our employees. Still small, still personal, we rely on our fifty employees to make it all happen, from answering the more than 4,000 calls we receive every month, to baking and packaging more than three million loaves of bread every year. We believe that if our customers are successful in managing their special diets, we too will be both commercially and personally successful. Ener-G products are specifically developed for individuals on special restricted diets. Our goal is to provide safe foods to fill the void created by the diagnosis's of a dietary disorder - thereby enhancing the quality of life. We are constantly striving to meet and exceed our goals. Ener-G R&D is never at rest, always improving existing formulas and brainstorming new ideas. As of right now, Ener- G produces over 150 products made in a facility that is dedicated gluten-free, wheat-free, casein-free, dairy-free, treenut-free, and peanut-free products. Of these items, many are also egg-free, soy-free, low in protein and low in sodium. We are also kosher certified. Since beginning in the 1960s, we've devoted much time and commitment to our customers. What we do is unique, revolutionary, and always evolving. A special thank you to all our customers, past, present, and future, here's to another 47+ years!
¹ PKU, Maple Syrup Urine Disease, glutaric Acidemia, Argininemia, Organic Acidemia, Homocystinuria, Argininemia, Tyrosinemia, Propionic Acidemia.
² The estimated frequency of Celiac Disease varies depending on the source. Information can be obrained from the Celiac Societies.