When Tracy Perry's daughter Lara was diagnosed with Celiac disease in March of 2004, despite years of being a medical researcher, he knew very little about the disease.
Soon he was attending meetings of the Quebec Chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association to find out more and it was at one of these meetings that he was challenged to find out if oats could be produced without gluten as many celiac sufferers wished to incorporate this grain as part of their diet.
It was shortly thereafter that Tracy met Beth Armour, a well known nutritionist at the time with the Royal Victoria Hospital. Beth was making gluten-free foods for Lara to ensure she remained healthy as a celiac sufferer. Tracy raised the issue of gluten free oats with Beth and soon they were collaborating on a project to deliver pure oats to celiac sufferers, something that no food processors had been able to do before.
By the fall of 2004, they had conducted a thorough literary review related to not just the consumption of oats, but also the farming and post harvest practices related to the product. Based on the findings, it was clear that if oats could be farmed without contamination from other grains and milled in an environment where contamination could be eliminated, then oats could be produced without gluten, the grain protein that affects celiac sufferers negatively.
As soon as it became clear that gluten free oats could be produced in a commercially viable way, the project became incorporated under the name 'Cream Hill Estates'. By operating under the name of a company, the duo immediately signalled how serious they were about their intentions, not just with respect to celiac sufferers, but also to government bodies, farmers, millers and other suppliers of goods and services.
By the spring of 2005, Tracy and Beth realised that the challenges of getting gluten free oats to market was greater than what they had originally anticipated. In addition to ensuring that farmers could grow uncontaminated oats in large enough quantities, the product be milled in an environment where cross contamination could not occur, the biggest challenge proved to be stabilizing the oats after harvest to avoid it becoming rancid.
After experiencing a steep learning curve during the summer growing season of 2005, 'Cream Hill Estates' finally received its first gluten free oats in the fall of that year....a total of 14 X 800kg tote bags. Tracy and Beth had finally proven that it could be done!
As with any success story, the challenges did not end there. In part two of this 'spotlight' feature, we will be looking at how 'Cream Hill Estates' engaged medical doctors, researchers and celiac sufferers around the world in a conversation to persuade them that gluten free oats would not present a health risk. As a result of this pioneering effort, you will also learn just how this Montreal company has delivered on the challenge the Quebec Chapter of the Canadian Celiac Society raised six years ago.