Cafe Society

Udi's Gluten-Free Foods sold to Smart Balance for $125 million

While devouring gluten-free Udi's bagels yesterday, our office chewed over the news that Udi's Gluten-Free Foods had been bought by Smart Balance for $125 million. That's big money, but Udi's Gluten-Free Foods -- founded by Udi's, the beloved breadmaker that offers fresh-baked goodness in grocery stores and at its own half-dozen restaurants and cafes -- creates seriously good bread that definitely extends the Smart Balance brand.

The price tag alone should tell you how far gluten-free has come in the past few years -- and how much businesses are willing to pay for a gluten-free bread recipe that creates the taste and texture people are accustomed to from regular bread. Udi's launched its gluten-free line in 2006 (another Colorado-based gluten-free powerhouse, Rudi's, didn't release a gluten-free bread until 2010, to give you some perspective), so the company has had lots of time to tweak its formula.

And the time spent has been worthwhile: When non-gluten-free consumers can try your product and think it's yummy -- and, in the case of Udi's bagels, can't even tell it's gluten-free without looking at the label -- well, you've got a winning combination on your hands.

"The Udi's gluten-free products were developed from the same talent pool of Udi's Foods but managed as a separate business entirely under the name Udi's Healthy Foods LLC," reads a statement by Etai Bar-on, the co-CEO of the company, on the sale of Udi's Gluten-Free Foods last week. "Thus, the selling of the gluten-free business in no way affects the ongoing operations for the restaurants, bakery or catering company."

Good news for us. And Smart Balance, the brand that purchased the, uh, other brand, is definitely expanding its profile: At the moment, Smart Balance sells a buttery spread (perhaps what it's best known for) as well as milk, popcorn, mayonnaise, eggs and peanut butter. Sounds like bread is just the thing to round out that catalogue -- and won't the rest of the nation be lucky to discover a treasure like Udi's?