Baker will more than settle for ‘bronze’

Papousek says the contacts made Food Innovation Challenge worth it

She didn’t end up the champion on paper, but as far as Chantal Papousek is concerned, her business still came out a winner.And the owner of Sweet Freedom Gluten Free Bakery knows she did the right thing when she submitted a last-minute entry into the Food Innovation Challenge, a unique contest sponsored by the Archer Daniels Midland Company.“I’m not disappointed at all,” Papousek said after she took third in the contest that celebrates entrepreneurs aspiring to build and sell their food business idea in a retail packaged goods setting. “The contacts I made, the things I learned ... it was a fabulous experience.”It’s also one she almost missed.For weeks this spring, she went back and forth trying to decide if she should enter the contest. On the day entries were due, she took the plunge.In June, she learned that she had been named one of 10 semifinalists and traveled to Decatur, Ill., to take part in the competition.Earlier this month, she and her husband Al returned to Decatur, and after a round of competition, Sweet Freedom was named one of the three finalists.“The one comment all the judges gave us is that they thought our frosting, although good, was a little heavy,” she said, “so we came up with a new ‘lighter’ one. Even though we didn’t win, I think it showed we could adapt to other tastes and do it pretty quickly, too.”Sweet Freedom was by far the smallest business among the 10 semifinalists, and Papousek said the experience was invaluable to her business, which has grown by leaps and bounds since she founded it in her home in 2014.She now employs five bakers and a delivery driver and also has a food distributor. In short, her products, especially her cupcakes, have become a regional sensation.Sweet Freedom products appear in 34 stores across the state and will make their debut at Luther College and the University of Northern Iowa.“There is a real need for good-tasting gluten free products,” she said, “and what the Food Innovation will allow us to do hopefully is expand to a national level.”But to do that, she will need what is called a “co-packer” so that she can produce her products in bulk.“We’ve talked with a national coffee chain, for example, but right now, we just can’t do that volume here,” she said as she talked in her bakery that is located on Spring Street in New Hampton.The Food Innovation Challenge allowed her to meet with representatives from National Food Works, and she plans on using part of her prize package to develop a business relationship with the food packer in Decatur.The contest also allowed to develop her contacts with food giants like Smucker’s, which recently purchased Pillsbury and Sara Lee.“They’re very interested,” she said, “and it’s things like that which made this contest so valuable for our business.”In other words, the Food Innovation Challenge was just the beginning for Sweet Freedom.But Papousek emphasized that New Hampton will always be a part of her business.“We’ll always be here,” she said, “and who knows, maybe we can set up a little factory here, too. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s OK to dream big. You have to have a plan, too, but to be where we’re at today, considering where we started ... sometimes, it’s still hard to believe.” 

New Hampton Tribune

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