May 24, 2007 in Business

A healthy relationship: Zip’s now serves buns from locally grown wheat

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

HearthBread Bakehouse baker Jusuf Buljubasic removes from the oven a rack of Zip’s hamburger buns made with Shepherd’s grain flour.
(Full-size photo)

Kids and adults who visit Zip’s might notice something different about their double-cheeseburgers.

The fast-food restaurant has gotten healthier. Most Zip’s now serve their burgers wedged between high-fiber buns made with Shepherd’s Grain, a type of wheat grown by a dozen farmers in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.

“It’s a huge deal from a wheat growers’ perspective,” said Fred Fleming, a fourth-generation wheat farmer who lives in Reardan, Wash.

“To me it’s a huge advantage to keep the grower and the product and everything local,” he said.

To do a little bakery math, it takes 3,000 bushels of grain to make one million buns. The deal could ultimately be worth as many as 10 million buns a year, Fleming said.

Dennis Kelly, who owns four local Zip’s restaurants, said the new taste took a little getting used to for some customers, but others liked it right away.

The fast-food restaurant is among about 400 local restaurants, hotels and grocers purchasing Shepherd’s Grain products from HearthBread Bakehouse, which makes the buns using the special grain and a Zip’s recipe.

Said Bob Condon, co-owner of HearthBread Bakehouse,”All we really did was to add Shepherd’s Grain to a formula from 25 years ago and turn it into a great product.”

Kelly said Zip’s was using mass-produced commercial buns when Zip’s representatives approached the bakery about making the recipe. The product was comparable in price, he said, adding, “We were surprised we could buy from a small, local company and move up in quality but still maintain our prices.”

Farmers belonging to Columbia Plateau Producers, LLC adhere to the sustainable farming practices that produce Shepherd’s Grain. Instead of tilling, seeds are planted directly over stubble. The result is farmers use less diesel fuel, which saves money and cuts down on emissions, and soil erosion is minimized.

Historically, Washington wheat has been sold overseas, he said, but Shepherd’s Grain is purchased by businesses closer to home, including HearthBread Bakehouse, the local baker that creates buns for Zip’s.

Three years ago the bakery started making all of its pastries, breads and other products with Shepherd’s Grain. Since the company made the switch, three years ago, sales have doubled.

The first year they bought several thousand pounds of flour a week, Condon said, now they buy 10 times that amount.

“We’re so excited about this. As a business owner this gives us motivation, enthusiasm and pride.”

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