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UKIAH -- With a rise in demand for gluten-free products, combined with increasing public concern over additives and food allergies, Pamela's Products has become a major source of a full line of tasty wheat- and gluten-free baked goods, flours and mixes made with all-natural ingredients.

"Pamela's took a leadership role in the specialty-foods category from its inception," said Jennifer Ramstad, director of marketing. "Everything our 80 employees make is gluten-free, with no artificial sweeteners or preservatives."

The company's eponym is Chief Executive Officer Pamela Giusto-Sorrells, a third-generation natural-foods entrepreneur. She is in the kitchen almost every day, coming up with new recipes and product ideas. Several are on the drawing board for release this year.

[caption id="attachment_76702" align="alignleft" width="350"] Pamela's Products founder and CEO Pamela Giusto-Sorrells stands beside her 120-foot continuous baking oven at the company's headquarters in Ukiah. (image credit: Pamela's Products)[/caption]

"When she goes to trade shows, people want to take photos with her," Ms. Ramstad said. "Some tell us how our products saved their lives, or how they can once again enjoy eating pancakes after a year or more of going without. It's gratifying to know that we are making a positive difference in how people live and stay healthy."

In 2012 Pamela's Products (pamelasproducts.com) consolidated its 76,400-square-foot bakery at 1 Carousel Ln. in Ukiah after a $1 million remodeling project.

The company believes in sourcing fresh ingredients locally, such as purchasing eggs from Mendocino and rice grown in California.

"We've also found that people who are gluten-intolerant may also be allergic to other allergens such as eggs, nuts and dairy products, while others choose to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet," Ms. Ramstad said. "Pamela's Products fulfill all of these dietary requirements in various segments of its product line that includes some 135 SKUs (shelf-keeping units)."

Dietitians and researchers within the company continue to seek alternatives for ingredients that can trigger a health reaction, such as replacing cow's milk with coconut milk in recipes.

Less than a year ago, the company introduced several mixes including a new artisan flour blend as an alternative to wheat; a pizza-crust mix that can also be used to prepare dinner rolls, tortillas and focaccia; as well as a biscuit and scone mix. 

"We responded to consumer requests for a gluten-free pizza crust they could serve the entire family -- especially kids -- and this product has become a best seller," Ms. Ramstad said.

At the same time, Pamela's introduced a roll-and-cut sugar cookie mix and oatmeal cookie mix made with certified gluten-free oats.

"Our company has seen double-digit growth over the past 52 weeks as more, and more consumers discover our products and trust our brand," Ms. Ramstad said.

A key aspect of consumer trust is the belief that all ingredients should be clearly identified on package labels.

"Gluten is hidden in many things," Ms. Ramstad said. "For example, labels on soy sauce must be checked to see if they contain wheat. We know people are highly sensitive to allergens and ensure that what we put in products is adequately described on our labels."

The Food and Drug Administration has been discussing the issue of allergen labeling for years but has yet to issue a firm ruling or guidelines.

"People are demanding a criteria for determining how many parts per million qualify as gluten free, or labels that given products may contain certain allergies, or that the product was made using equipment that may also process wheat," Ms. Ramstad said.

This year, couponing has become a major marketing tool for the company at a time when people are cautious about going over budget, especially since gluten-free products call for the use of ingredients that are typically more expensive.

"Living gluten-free is not a choice for those with Celiac disease or other food allergies," Ms. Ramstad said. "We wanted to make it easier and more economical for everyone to buy our premium products by removing a barrier to entry."

Starting this year, Pamela's launched "instant redeemable coupons" attached to products, and online coupons can be downloaded. The company also distributes its discount coupons at consumer shows while handing out product samples. 

"Coupons are a great way to code-track consumer buying habits to determine where they shop and how they hear about Pamela's," Ms. Ramstad said. "Some of our coupons have long expiration time intervals, some as much as three years -- shorter times in the case of online coupons. We discovered that our coupons have a relatively high 8 percent redemption rate."

The company also is promoting its foodservice capability by marketing baking mixes in 25- and 50-pound bags.

"We are also stepping up our Influencing the Influencers program and public-relations outreach efforts to introduce dieticians and members of the medical community to Pamela's Products so they can pass the information on to their patients," Ms. Ramstad said.

When it comes to popularity, products with chocolate are always the strongest sellers, but the new pizza crust and the company's gluten-free bars are still top sellers in their respective categories.