Grower Co-op Marketing
Gluten-free “ Montina ” flour
At last count, 54 farmers have become members of the Montana-based
Amazing Grains Grower Cooperative, established to produce and market a gluten-free flour under the brand name “Montina .”
The gluten-free flour is milled from a native perennial grass found primarily in western states, called Indian ricegrass, at one time was said to be a prime food source of Native Americans who
would grind grain from the harvested grass into flour to make bread.
Two products are currently being made under the Montina label: a pure Montina flour (12 oz., 24 oz. and 4 lb.) as well as an all-purpose gluten-free baking blend (24 oz and 4 lb).
Montina is milled and packaged at Mission Mountain Market, a partially grant-supported business incubator in Ronan, Mont. Sales are expected to
rise to between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds in 2003, according to Tim Anderson, a Montana State University researcher involved with the product
through a commercialization grant. He said firms in Seattle and Edmonton, Canada are either incorporating Montina in their products or using Montina in product development.
“The demand far exceeds the supply at this point,” says Anderson. “We anticipate sales going well over a million pounds a year.” Two distinguishing
characteristics of Montina, in addition to it being gluten-free, are that it is a high-fiber, high-protein product.
MSU researcher Dave Sands, also involved with the development of Montina, expects demand to explode for nontraditional crops when a “proteomic chip” able to read our DNA is commercialized in three to five
years. This technology will tell an individual so much about his or her current physical condition that it will create markets for agricultural products that support the specific needs of individuals.
Working with other staff at MSU, Sands began to investigate the possibility of using the seed of Indian ricegrass as a source of gluten free flour in 1995.
Plans for organized production began to fall into place in 2000, and stock offerings in the cooperative were sold last year in two membership drives, mostly to growers in Montana.
The co-op assists its member growers in finding seed, and educating them on how to grow and harvest the crop. A dryland Indian ricegrass stand is
productive for four to five years before it needs to be replanted.
Members are required to deliver 1,000 pounds of Indian ricegrass per share on an annual basis. The co-op currently pays its members $2.87/lb of
millable kernels, plus a profit dividend, according to Penny Warren, who was hired to help manage the co-op, along with husband Bob, the general manager, and Doug Martin, who serves as a buyer.
The Co-op is developing its markets, including sales by phone, Internet, www.montina.com and health food stores. A health food store in Missoula
will be the first to carry the product on its shelves, beginning this May.
Sands says that the market for the product will be similar to a pharmaceutical market to the extent that harvested Montina must be uncontaminated by even a single kernel of wheat or barley. Any
contamination of a gluten-free product could kill the demand for it, he cautions.