Sarah Clarke didn’t know it at the time, but her son would inspire her to start a business that’s really taken a bite out of the specialty food market.
“When he was a year and a half, he was covered in eczema and he had really bad digestive issues,” the Lynn Valley resident recalls.
She took him to a naturopath and learned he had a peanut allergy as well as a number of food sensitivities. The long list of items to eliminate from his diet included peanuts, dairy, eggs, wheat and cane sugar.
“After cleaning up his diet, his health improved dramatically. He’s a really healthy kid,” Clarke says of her son, now eight.
The experience made her realize there weren’t a lot of allergen-free grab-and-go snacks available in stores. Clarke and her husband, Terry Goulah, had been wanting to start their own business for a while and decided to explore this gap in the market.
Two years ago they launched FreeYumm Foods, a line of kid-friendly snacks that are free from the top nine priority allergens: dairy, eggs, wheat/gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, soy, sulphites, and seafood. Their prepackaged bars and cookies are also free from GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and favour natural sweeteners, such as maple syrup and honey, over processed cane sugar and corn syrup.
In her research, Clarke discovered many of the allergen-free foods that do exist on the market “just didn’t taste very good,” so she made it a priority to create snacks that were both safe to eat and delicious. She experimented with recipes in her own kitchen and first started selling her products at Nourish Market in Lynn Valley. The brand took off from there and today FreeYumm is sold throughout Western Canada at natural food stores such as Whole Foods, Choices, Nesters and Spud, as well as at Save-On-Foods and Thrifty Foods in B.C. In 2015, the company’s oat and hemp bars received the Product of the Year Gold Medal Award from the B.C. Food Processors Association.
The whole line of products is made in a 5,000-square-foot production facility in North Vancouver’s Harbourside area. Keeping the bakery allergen-free is something Clarke takes very seriously.
“Allergens aren’t something you can play around with,” she says. “Nothing has ever been in the facility that are any of the major allergens, right from the very beginning.”
That means staff members have to be careful what they bring for lunch. And if they eat out, they have to wash their hands and brush their teeth before returning to work.
When it comes to sourcing ingredients, Clarke gets everything tested before bringing it into the bakery.
“And then we do random testing of our final product as well before it goes out the door,” she adds.
She emphasizes that FreeYumm isn’t just for kids with allergies, but any kid who goes to a school that doesn’t permit certain foods on the premises, or who just wants to be able to share their food with friends.
“For me, sharing food, it’s an important social activity and pastime and I just want all kids to be able to be included,” she says.
“I’m still surprised by how many parents I meet that love our product and they don’t manage allergies at home but they have kids in school and they really are struggling to find a good, healthy snack that they can send to school with their kids.”
Going forward, Clarke has aggressive expansion plans for her business. With United States packaging ready to go, she’s hoping to move into the American market very soon.
“We really believe in the need for it throughout North America,” she says.