Interview with Mary Waldner, a.k.a. Mary's Gone Crackers
Posted Jul 31 2009 11:53am
What is your background? How did you get involved in developing allergen-friendly foods?
I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and was in private therapy practice for 26 years in Oakland, CA before starting Mary’s Gone Crackers. I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance in 1994 (as was my son) and began baking alternative products at home. I have been eating organically for probably as long as organic has existed and was not interested in most of the gluten free products that were on the market back then (it’s gotten a little better) so my experimenting went in the direction of healthier whole grains and healthier fats. I have always enjoyed baking and experimenting, so finding out that gluten was my problem was a happy challenge. I had been so ill for so long, I was thrilled to be able to do something that made me feel so much better.
How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I had the idea for the dough using whole grain brown rice and quinoa but I wasn’t sure about the form. I wanted a healthy, transportable gluten-free snack for myself. After playing with it for many months, the cracker turned out to be the best form for that dough and I really liked them, so that’s what I started making. I made them by hand for many years, bringing them with me to parties and restaurants so I would have something to eat. I watched others eat them—from little children, to teens and adults—and there were very few people who didn’t go wild for them.
How did you decide on your brand name?
This is actually a great story. My husband (he’s my business partner) and I had been searching for the perfect name for quite a while. I went to my women's support group monthly meeting and told them of our dilemma. One of my friends said “The company should have your name in it, like ‘Mary’s cracking up’ or something” and then my other friend said “Yeah, like ‘Mary’s Gone Crackers’!” There was a very pregnant pause in the room at that moment and we all knew that the name of the company had just been found! By the way, my women’s group has been meeting for almost 15 years!
What is the biggest challenge of being a part of the healthy foods market?
There are many challenges of bringing a food product to market, whether it’s in the health food side or not. For us, since we are manufacturing products that are unusual, we have had a lot to learn on the manufacturing side, and we are still improving. On the sales side, getting our products into distribution and onto the store shelves takes a huge amount of work. There has been a lot of consumer demand for our products, so that helps tremendously—buyers are much more willing to take a chance with something new when they know that people love the product already.
What is the most useful advice you have for people new to the gluten free lifestyle?
There is often a lot of focus on what you CAN’T have on a gluten free diet so in the beginning there can be a lot of emphasis on finding gluten-free versions of foods that are not that healthful to begin with, like sweets, pizza, etc. Not that we all don’t need treats on occasion! However, being diagnosed as gluten intolerant is an opportunity to look at your food choices from a whole new angle. We all know that we are supposed to be eating whole real food, rather than the refined, processed choices that flood our markets. Instead of seeing being gluten free as a deprivation, look at the benefits of not being able to go into a white flour bakery and eating everything in sight! I am grateful that I finally found out what was making me ill (I was 43 and had been sick since I was very small.) Being pain free, having energy, not being depressed and fatigued has given me a new life! There is grief in the beginning when you have to change your diet so drastically, but remember how much better you will be feeling and how much you can learn about eating healthfully—you are a pioneer! There are so many more fresh, whole foods that are available that don’t involve wheat, barley, and rye—explore, invent, create and enjoy!
What are some of your favorite foods?
I eat my crackers and Sticks pretty regularly. I’m loving quinoa again these days—I made a great shitake mushroom, onion, kale and quinoa stir fry for dinner recently. I’m big into greens—broccoli, chard, cabbage, kale—and eat them in salads and lightly steamed often. When I’m home I can eat more simply and seasonally and I really enjoy that—like eating fresh watermelon right now! I have to travel a lot since starting this company, so the challenge for me is not to eat more than I really need, and to stay away from sugar, which can be my downfall.
Can you share something about what you are currently working on?
My line of gluten-free, organic and vegan cookies (“Mary’s Gone Kookies”) are almost ready for market. They are fabulous and I’m very excited about the healthful ingredients we are using. After that, I think I’ll be working on breakfast bars.