Louise Pearl's new grocerybakery-kitchen in Dorval is certainly targeting a niche market: people on gluten-free diets.
As a food-industry consultant who also is head of the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association, Pearl said this background made it a natural for her to open Louise Sans Gluten Free, on Dumont St. just west of the Fénelon Blvd.-Highway 20 interchange.
Her goal is to offer people with celiac disease a one-stop place to shop for gluten-free foods, from freshly baked breads and desserts and candy to packaged goods like pasta and soy sauce.
"Those of us who have to eat gluten-free, normally our shopping methods require going to many, many stores to find the things we need. There's a little bit in lot of different places," she said. "You can find gluten-free foods in health food stores, a bit in some grocery stores. For normal people what is a trip to the grocery store, can for us be a trip to four, five or six stores."
Pearl said she came across many gluten-free options while working as a consultant in the food industry.
"I realized many companies I helped transform to gluten-free production ended up with no shelf space (in stores)," she said.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Commercially sold oats could also pose a problem for a gluten-free diet if it comes in contact at the production plant with the other three grains, Pearl said, adding she offers uncontaminated oats for sale at her store.
"For us to shop in a grocery store, you constantly have to read labels. Is this safe? is this not safe?" she said. "A lot of times it's not indicated, like the source of the hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, so you put it back on the shelf because you don't know if it's from a grain you can't eat."
Her target market includes people with celiac disease, an auto-immune condition that can disrupt the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine, which effects about one per cent of Canadians, and those who have a gluten intolerance, estimated at about five per cent of the general population.
"So there are a lot of people who eat gluten-free," she said. "Some people eat gluten-free for the wrong reasons, some think it's a healthy diet and they'll lose weight. That's a misconception because we can't eat products with wheat, rye, barley and oats, so you eat less of them, you eat less bread.
"People think a gluten-free diet is a healthy diet by eliminating the carbs. But you have to be careful with the products we eat that are not enriched. We have to use starches to balance out the mixes of flour. So it's not necessarily the healthiest if you don't go look out for nutrients, fibre and vitamins elsewhere in your diet."
Since her store opened in midJuly, Pearl said people from all around Montreal have come to shop.
"It's a kind of diet people will travel a fair distance to get what they need," she added. "So they don't just come from the West Island. It's destination shopping. It's specialized food, and you will go where you can find it."
Aside from the groceries, bulk foods and baked goods, Pearl also offers a lunch counter (sandwiches, quiches, soups and salads) Wednesdays to Saturdays, as well as cooking classes at the store, which is open Tuesdays to Saturdays.
Since its grand opening event in late August, the store has been buzzing, Pearl said, adding she is considering reorganizing the back of the store for more storage space and to offer more bulk food supplies.
"I knew we would grow, but this fast is really nice," she said.
Pearl currently runs the store with a few employees, plus some help from family and friends.
For information on the store, check louisesgft.com or call 514631-3434; for more on celiac disease, check celiac.ca or celiacguide.org.
*Reprinted with permission of the author Albert Kramberger of The Gazette. For original article, please see http://westislandgazette.com/news/26027