Following Hearts to Gluten-Free, Plant-Based Products
From egg-free mayonnaise to certified gluten-free breads, one thing is clear about Follow Your Heart, the vegan and gluten-free food company headquartered in Southern California. No matter the product, the leaders of the company follow their passion to create foods that meet people’s needs.
“We get a lot of satisfaction from putting products out there that do a good job of filling people’s dietary needs,” says co-founder and CEO Bob Goldberg. “And these people really appreciate our products. This appreciation is wonderful and very much a motivation.”
Follow Your Heart started as a seven-seat food bar in the back of a Canoga Park, California, health food store in 1970. One of the original four partners had embarked on a spiritual quest, studying Eastern philosophies, following an Indian guru and adhering to a diet without any meat, fish, fowl or eggs. The cafe followed suit.
“We all shared not exactly that same spiritual path, but that philosophy of following our hearts,” Goldberg says. The restaurant, still in existence, became a magnet. “People were coming to us because we offered them a solution in the form of things they could eat. That then became a motivating factor for us, because we could see how happy it made people.”
At the time, Follow Your Heart was simply a cafe, not a food manufacturer. They were using an egg-free mayo on sandwiches but were shocked when they discovered the product was fraudulent: The manufacturer was caught taking egg-containing mayo and slapping on an egg-free label.
In a bind, Goldberg set out to create his own egg-free mayo, eventually coming up with Vegenaise, mixing it one blender-full at a time for the cafe. In time, they turned to a co-packer to make small quantities to use in the restaurant and to sell onsite. But it wasn’t until 1995 that they decided to manufacture, bottle and sell Vegenaise for the larger market.
“We didn’t think we could sell a refrigerated mayonnaise, because that was unheard of at the time,” Goldberg says. Regardless, they followed their hearts and introduced Vegenaise as a refrigerated product. “It pretty quickly became the largest selling national brand of natural mayonnaise, taking up about 50 percent of the market,” he says.
From that success came more products: first, salad dressings based on their egg-free mayo, then the first generation of vegan cheeses, dairy-free cream cheese and dairy-free sour cream. Soon, requests for gluten-free products began to roll in.
“A lot of consumers would write and ask if our products were gluten-free,” Goldberg says. “We knew that they were naturally gluten-free. But we went the extra step to do testing and get certified. We made the decision to have the entire facility become a gluten-free facility for simplicity and to make sure that there were no mistakes.”
In 2009, the partners bought Rising Hearts, a gluten-free, kosher bakery, and they reformulated the products to also be vegan and have cleaner ingredients. Rising Hearts bakery still exists as a small freestanding bakery in Culver City, California. But the partners moved production of three gluten-free breads—oat bread, millet bread and brioche—and two types of tortillas into Follow Your Heart’s Earth Island manufacturing facility. The tortillas are sold nationally and the breads are sold regionally.
“We still have limited capacity because we don’t have enough ability in this facility to supply the whole country. That’s something we’re working on,” Goldberg says.
The company keeps evolving. In 2014, they realized that selling dairy-based products did not align with their principles. “So once again, we followed our hearts and took a turn and said we’re not going to make anything that is not derived from plants,” Goldberg says.
New products make a plant-based lifestyle even easier for consumers. Follow Your Heart is introducing liquid VeganEgg to accompany the powdered VeganEgg that launched in 2016. The liquid product will be foolproof—ready to scramble or use in recipes—and is soy-based, rather than the previous algae-based powdered product.
Rocket Cakes, a new organic, gluten-free, allergen-free prepared pancake and waffle batter, is ready to squeeze out of the bottle onto the skillet. Goldberg is particularly excited about a new line of dairy-free yogurts in development, which have a coconut milk base and velvety texture. Follow Your Heart is also introducing two new plant-based cheddar cheeses—a medium cheddar slice and a sharp cheddar block—and has reformulated its dairy-free cream cheese and sour cream.
Looking back to the company’s origins, Goldberg says he would never have predicted the company’s success, the demand for plant-based and gluten-free products and the quality of vegan alternatives available today. And it all points back to the founders’ mission.
“I have an incredibly happy and fortunate life,” Goldberg says. “A big part of that is that I have a commitment to following my heart. It remains a guidepost to me personally. And I’ve heard from many people over the years that it’s had a similar effect on them.”
Eve Becker is associate editor of Gluten Free & More magazine.