Nine Times Bakery
Lovable Gluten free, Dairy free Treats…Really!
The roughly 20 million Americans who suffer from gluten intolerance often find themselves in the lonely position of going to a group dinner with their own bag of gluten free food that will elicit some form of pity or contempt from their friends. Emily Petersen (nee Mohr) found herself in just this situation 10 years ago and was eventually inspired to create Nine Times Bakery – the first widely available dessert-based food brand for the gluten free consumer.
Nine Times creates cakes, cookies, cake-balls, and peanut-butter bars along with seasonal items throughout the year. These products are both gluten free, dairy free, and can actually stand up to a taste test with any high-end bakery – something this author can personally attest to. The company initially built up its brand through word-of-mouth and social media, but now operates an e-commerce platform that ships to all 50 states, emphasizing a smooth and hassle-free user experience.
Given the substantial rise in consumer awareness surrounding the adverse health effects of gluten (as evidenced by some studies that suggest as many as one third of Americans at least try to limit gluten in their diets), it is hard to overstate how underserved this massive market is. Most consumers are stuck trying their luck at recipes that may not work or taking their chances with one-off / specialty items at otherwise “regular” bakeries and grocery stores.
Emily attributes much of Nine Times’ early growth to pent-up demand from a gluten intolerant consumer base that was starved of high-quality desserts and from a general population that wanted to recreate some semblance of a human-to-human connection during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. She says that many early consumers took advantage of Nine Times’ gifting referral program as a way to share something with their loved ones and to gain satisfaction from realizing that they could introduce said loved ones to this novel product that catered to their unique needs.
Emily Petersen started experimenting with recipes after being diagnosed with gluten and lactose intolerance, and subsequently finding that none of her friends ever wanted to try the store-bought food she would bring to gatherings. Her homemade desserts quickly became popular with her family and friends, but the idea of starting her own gluten free bakery did not take hold until Kellogg Professor Jeffrey Eschbach took note of how her desserts could stand toe to toe with non-gluten free offerings and believed that she was on to something.
Armed with this fresh inspiration and her winning recipes, Emily performed further product market testing within the Kellogg ecosystem and was eventually admitted to the Zell Fellows Program which is designed to provide select high-potential students with an applied entrepreneurial experience from which to launch their own ventures. After graduation, she joined The Hatchery – a 67,000 square foot food incubator in Chicago that provides the necessary air ventilation for a gluten free environment and a community of like-minded entrepreneurs in the food space. From there, she ships online orders to an ever-expanding base of customers across Chicagoland and as far afield as Alaska.
Future Expansion & Partners
The Nine Times team is in the final stages of closing its pre-seed funding round. They aim to use the funds to boost growth through co-manufacturing partnerships in order to scale into the high-end grocery retail channel.
In terms of future funding partners, Emily spoke on the importance of a VC who understands the unique challenges of the consumer foods market and the trade-offs that often entails (relative to some more tech-centric startups) of balancing current capital needs and a longer-term strategy necessary to build a lasting brand.