Flax4Life, Bellingham, WA, is a family-owned and -operated bakery that specializes in allergy-friendly baked goods, including brownies, muffins, cookies, cakes, and granola. The items are certified gluten-free, dairy-free, and (except for their coconut-containing products) nut-free. 

While the company aims to offer health benefits for consumers, Flax4 also strives to benefit the environment. For example, the company’s industrial-compostable, plant-based packaging (derived from corn and sugar-cane feedstock) for its retail muffins, brownies, and cookies recently qualified for honors in the 2022 IBIE BEST in Baking awards competition.

To learn more about Flax4Life, the eco-friendly packaging, and its holistic better-for-you philosophy, we connected with Sarah Bishop, marketing specialist.

Jenni Spinner: Could you please tell us a bit about Flax4Life?

Sarah Bishop: Our dedication to producing a nutritious and delicious baked good originated 21 years ago after a few family members were diagnosed with celiac disease. They spent years seeing specialists, naturopathic, and many physicians before a diagnosis occurred. Since then, almost everyone in our family has discovered that they are either gluten-intolerant or have celiac disease. At the time of the first diagnosis, gluten-free food options were severely lacking. Coming from five generations of bakers, the founders saw an opportunity to produce a gluten-free treat that tasted good but also was good for you! Here at Flax4Life, our strong personal commitment is to provide you with the highest quality products possible.  

You can find nationwide in both natural and conventional grocery stores, including, Sprouts, Whole Foods, Fred Meyer, Publix, Grocery Outlet, Co-ops, and many independent stores. As the number one selling brand in the natural baked goods category, it is our responsibility to ensure we are positively impacting the world, and in 2020 we made a significant change to help with these core values. We eliminated the use of petroleum-based plastic clamshells and converted them to eco-friendly PLA compostable packaging. Our mission is to eliminate all plastic materials in our packages as soon as the technology arrives. As a company, we are continuously striving to do better and make better-for-you products. 

JS: Could you please tell us a bit about your company's philosophy toward sustainability and how your operational practices, product offerings, and packaging have evolved in recent years to meet sustainability goals?

SB: As a company, we understand our environmental impact on the world, and it is our goal to initiate any practices that help us lower our overall negative impact. Not only do we use PLA compostable packaging, but we also have a few other initiatives that help reduce it, including:

  • Purchase of renewable energy
  • Low-pressure water equipment 
  • Participate in food waste collection
  • Eliminate material waste in production by buying larger volumes
  • Locally sourcing ingredients
  • Regenerative agriculture ingredients

Our goal is to make small changes when possible to add up to a significant impact. 

JS: Similarly, how have your conversations with customers around sustainability evolved? What are some of the new offerings and changes you've made to help meet those goals?

SB: We've witnessed an industry-wide shift of priorities shifting from exclusively searching for healthier products (organic, non-GMO, clean ingredients) but now including companies being environmentally conscious as well. People are thinking beyond directly in front of them, but the entire picture. With this change, it is all about education and communication with customers, especially grocery store buyers. People are more aware and concerned, and we must stay active in consistently communicating the changes we've made to secure their trust in our brand. 

JS: Then, please tell us about the BEST in Baking-qualifying Industrial Compostable Plant-Based Packaging for your muffins, brownies, and cookies. How did you decide to work toward making that change?

SB: We conducted an analysis of trends, costs, of environmental impact.

JS: Please tell us how you selected a packaging partner.

SB: At the time, they were one of the first with this type of technology and were willing to form a long-term partnership. 

JS: Could you please tell us about how it was developed and how you collaborated with packaging partners to make it happen?

SB: I met our account manager randomly at a trade show, and after a few conversations and seeing samples of the final packaging, we knew this would be a great resource to pursue.  The entire design and manufacturing process took a little over a year to fully make the switch. 

JS: What criteria did you establish for quality/performance standards, etc.?

SB: It needed to hold up to a freeze-thaw process, be visually appealing, and have oxygen barrier strength for shelf life and pricing. 

JS: Did you go through much trial and error before you came up with the final?

SB: Only a few design revisions to make it more modern and fit with our labeling machines. Honestly, once we committed to switching, the process was easy. Just took patience waiting in between steps. 

JS: Does the packaging offer the same level of product protection as the previous packaging?

SB: Yes, maybe a better oxygen barrier because of design changes. 

JS: Please talk about any other sustainability and product-related benefits the new packaging offers.

SB: The plant-based packaging: 

  • Is made from plants, not petroleum
  • Is compostable within 180 days in an industrial facility
  • Contains no BPAs, phthalates, or chemicals of concern
  • Is made from annually renewable materials
  • Has lower CO2 Emissions

JS: What has customer response to the packaging been like since the rollout?

SB: Overall it has been extremely positive, but there has been some confusion. We had many consumers unaware that compostable material existed and what to do with it. You can't recycle it; many people initially felt it was not environmentally friendly. 

JS: Does Flax4Life have any other packaging or product offerings in the works you'd like to tell us about?

SB: New no-sugar-added brownies and cupcakes should be hitting the shelves in 2023.