AURI Connects: Fields of Innovation Innovator Profiles is a Q&A series with Minnesota entrepreneurs who have partnered with AURI to build capacity and successfully commercialize new and emerging crops.
Q&A with Gwen Williams, owner of Artisan Naan Bakery
AURI: What is your involvement with the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI)?
GW: AURI introduced Artisan Naan Bakery to Kernza® perennial grain and the vast world of perennial crop research. We worked with AURI on a Kernza Naan pilot project selling our freshly baked Kernza Naan to retail stores and at St. Cloud farmers markets from May-August 2021. Throughout the process, we provided written and verbal feedback to AURI about working with Kernza flour and selling our Kernza Naan. In return, AURI fielded our many questions about Kernza and small grain processing from “field to flour sacks.” AURI also created an online survey to gather information on attitudes and interest in Kernza products among general consumers. Overall, the pilot project was a great success.
AURI: What innovative ag pathway(s) are you blazing?
GW: We believe the ultimate commercial success of the intermediate wheatgrass grain, Kernza, intertwines with its acceptance as a grain used for baking bread.
Baking bread with Kernza enabled our bakery to expand and diversify its fresh bread products. Our Kernza Naan is our first whole-grain Naan to find committed, repeat customers. It’s also one of the vegan (non-dairy) Naans we bake, enabling us to offer more choices to our vegan customers.
In June 2021, we began the planning process of selling Kernza Naan to our wholesale customers in the Twin Cities metro. By August 2021, we delivered our first batches of freshly baked Kernza Naan to four food cooperatives in Minneapolis. From there, we started producing our bakery’s pita pockets using Kernza perennial grain flour. They’re now sold in eight select Lunds & Byerlys stores. We believe we are the first Minnesota bread bakery to place any Kernza bread on grocery store shelves.
AURI: What are the challenges presented and opportunities offered?
GW: The challenges we face with baking and selling our Kernza breads are the same challenges we have always faced as a bakery— production and distribution. And as a local, from-scratch bakery, we have an additional challenge in finding skilled bakers of our breads, as well as interested apprentices who would like to learn the skills of bread making.
An opportunity to grow our business is to scale in a modular or franchise manner, thereby creating a small network of decentralized fresh flatbread bakeries. Or we could develop a new distribution arrangement with a local distributor who is interested in and willing to work with the short shelf life of freshly baked breads so that they can be delivered the very next day.
AURI: Do you or have you collaborated with other small businesses? If so, in what way?
GW: We’re now in our 8th year of business and throughout our run we have worked with other small businesses as a buyer and a producer. We purchase whole milk from Stony Creek Dairy in Melrose, Minn. and extra virgin sunflower oil from Smude Sunflower Oil in Pierz, Minn. Every Naan and pita pocket we make has at least one of those ingredients in it. And every dairy Naan we make contains our in-house yogurt produced with Stony Creek Dairy whole milk.
AURI: How can AURI readers and supporters purchase your products, connect with your business online and help your business thrive?
GW: For a complete, up-to-date listing of our products, visit our website artisannaan.com.
While we primarily wholesale to grocers and food cooperatives in Minnesota, we provide direct sales at our storefront in St. Cloud. You can order online for in-store pickup or have products shipped.
As of January 2022, our Twin Cities metro wholesale customers include: Lunds & Byerlys, Wedge Community Co-Op, Eastside Food Co-op, Linden Hills Food Co-Op, Seward Community Co-Ops and Lakewinds Food Co-Ops. In central Minnesota our products are at Good Earth Food Co-Op in St. Cloud, Minnesota Street Market in St. Joeseph and City Center in Princeton.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.