Many companies have a sweet spot where revenues gush and profits pool. Pamela’s Products has multiple sweet spots: cookies, brownies, fig bars, cake mix, scones and new oat bars, all adding up to more than $30 million in revenue.
The company, with headquarters and about six people in San Rafael, and manufacturing in Ukiah, attained widespread penetration with gluten-free baked goods in giant retail chains including Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Costco, Safeway and Kroger. The entire Whole Foods chain — more than 400 stores — carries Pamela’s Products, according to Pamela Giusto-Sorrells, founder and president, who launched the brand in 1988. The bakery sells goods on Amazon and has about 95 employees.
The granddaughter of business owners who in 1940 opened Golden Crescent Health-Foods store at Gough and Fulton streets in San Francisco, Giusto-Sorrells watched her dad bake and sell health-food cookies in his parents’ store. His cookies left out taste. She resolved to improve on the sweets.
About eight years ago, Giusto-Sorrells hired Linda Gerwig as vice president of sales. Gerwig, with food-industry experience at Hain Celestial Group, Barbara’s Bakery and Sunspire, brought corporate sophistication to Pamela’s.
“As long as she has been in business, I have been in this industry,” Gerwig said. “I did have ideas,” she said, keeping her eye on Pamela’s development. “The training is to take our ideas and build a brand. I like the entrepreneur side” of the business, she said. “It’s fun and scary, can go wrong very quickly. It’s risk-embracing.”
Gerwig presented a multi-year business plan. “It’s good for me to treat it like a real company,” Giusto-Sorrells said. “I never expected to be selling more than in the Bay Area.”
Barbara’s Bakery, where Gerwig worked, was founded in Palo Alto in 1971 and moved to Petaluma in 1988. Barbara’s is now a subsidiary of Weetabix Food Co. in the U.K., and has U.S. headquarters in Massachusetts. Weetabix has total revenue of nearly $525 million and is owned by China’s government-controlled Bright Food Group and Lion Capital, a private-equity firm in London. Barbara’s moved out of Petaluma in 2012.
“When Linda came on board,” Giusto-Sorrells said, “she started to build a team. She comes from the corporate world. I am very seat-of-the-pants, have no idea what it takes to have a sales team.”
Giusto-Sorrells carries the company vision and develops recipes for new products. “It’s my palate that decides whether or not it’s a go on recipes,” she said. “The look, the feel. I like being part of a team, the camaraderie. I don’t need to sit on the throne.”
About a year ago, Pamela’s Products launched a new graham-cracker line. Two years ago, it started Figgies & Jammies, which are gluten-free fig bars with added raspberries or blueberries. “Fig newtons are an integral part of our lifestyle — foods that are basic needs,” Giusto-Sorrells said. “Sometimes the simplest stuff is the most wanted, a great graham cracker. Something that you can make a s’more on.” She adopted “shapes that emulate what a graham cracker means to us emotionally.”
Because graham is a form of whole wheat, where the endosperm is typically ground finely then bran and germ are added back, “it’s having to finagle it and figure out a recipe that gives you that emotional and physical satisfaction” without wheat, she said.