Interview with Mary Waldner: Chairman & Founder of Mary's Gone Crackers

As founder of Mary’s Gone Crackers, Mary Waldner leads both product development and brand strategy for the company. Mary is responsible for the development of all of the company’s products, and has been a Director since the company was incorporated in 2004.
Inspired by her own struggles with Celiac Disease, Waldner created Mary’s Gone Crackers after finding a shortage of nutritious, gluten free options that tasted good. Her handcrafted recipe became a hit not only with Celiac sufferers, but with consumers eager for delicious snacks they could feel good about eating. Mary’s Gone Crackers Original was awarded the Sofi Gold for the most outstanding cracker at the New York Fancy Food Show in 2008.
Waldner is a member of the Organic Trade Association and the Celiac Sprue Association.
Prior to co-founding Mary’s Gone Crackers, Waldner practiced as a psychotherapist for 26 years; she holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology and is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Mary Waldner is married to Dale Rodrigues with whom she created Mary’s Gone Crackers. She resides in Paradise, CA.

Sarah Velasco: Can you tell us about yourself? How did you get started?
Mary Waldner: I grew up in suburban Chicago.  I have a BA and an MA in psychology, am a licensed marriage and family therapist.  I had a psychotherapy practice for 26 years in the Bay Area (northern California) prior to starting our company in 2004.  I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 1994 after having been ill for most of my life and not knowing why.  I knew it was related to food, but I didn’t even know what gluten was prior to then.  My son was diagnosed at the same time, he was 9.  So I began learning how to eat gluten free and baking my favorite things in gluten free versions.  My health was transformed very quickly and I was really happy.  The only hard part was going out to restaurants and going to parties.  There was no bread, or crackers or breadsticks to eat or dip or spread.  It was hard to sit and watch everyone eat and not be able to eat anything myself.  So I played with all these whole grains that I loved to eat and eventually, after much trial and error, came up with the recipe for the Original crackers.  I liked them a lot and made them for myself and brought them in little bags whenever I went to a party or out to dinner and was very satisfied.
Sarah Velasco: How did Mary’s Gone Crackers begin?
Mary Waldner: After many years of making the crackers by hand and watching others eat them and LOVE them, I knew that the response people were having was not a normal, everyday reaction to a cracker; that I had something much more special than that.  I also knew, given how labor intensive they were to make, that even if I gave everyone the recipe, or put it in a cookbook, no one would bother to make them because it was too much work.  So I woke up on New Year’s day, 1999, and said to my husband Dale, “I think we need to manufacture these crackers.”  And he agreed!  So for the next 5 years we worked on learning about the food industry, writing a business plan, finding investors, looking for someone to manufacture our crackers, translating my handmade recipe into a more automated process, and on and on.  We got it all together and in 2004 we opened our business!
Sarah Velasco: What is your vision behind the company?
Mary Waldner: Originally it was just about offering an organic, gluten free, whole food product that I knew everyone loved.  As we grew I quickly realized that people were starving for our message as well:  Conscious Eating; open, transparent practices; using whole, real, organic ingredients; real people making real food with honesty and love.  Those have always been my values, how I eat, so the vision behind the company is about offering food that is made the way I want food to be made, and it seems to be working really well!

Sarah Velasco: What is conscious eating?
Mary Waldner: Conscious Eating means being aware of what you are eating—what’s in your food, where it comes from, how it is made, knowing how and where the ingredients were grown.  And also how does eating certain foods make you feel?  Do you think what you’re putting into your body is truly nourishing?  I know that eating whole, real, nourishing food can transform your life, can put you on a path of health and well being.  I want everyone to be their best, most vital self and no one can achieve that while eating garbage.
Sarah Velasco: Can you tell us how you incorporate conscious eating into your products?
Mary Waldner: By not compromising on our ingredients—organic, gluten free, ethically produced ingredients is the foundation for all our products.  No GMO ingredients, no highly processed products.  Our food is made the way you would make something in your own kitchen, only on a bigger scale.
Sarah Velasco: Are your products gluten free, nut free, sugar free or soy free?
Mary Waldner: All of our products are gluten free, vegan/dairy and egg free, and peanut and tree nut free (except coconuts.)  We use soy in the form of fermented tamari in many of our crackers and pretzels (there are a few that are free of soy), and we use sweeteners in our Love Cookies—but the only cane sugar is in our chocolate chips.  Otherwise we use coconut palm sugar, tapioca syrup, some molasses. 

Sarah Velasco: What types of products do you have?
Mary Waldner: We have 7 flavors of our seed crackers:  Original, Herb, Black Pepper, Onion, Caraway and our two newest flavors, Hot ‘n Spicy Jalapeno and Super Seed.  We have 4 flavors of whole grain and seed Pretzels:  Sea Salt, Chipotle Tomato, Curry, and our newest addition, the Everything Pretzel.  We have 4 flavors of our Love Cookies:  Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate, Ginger Snaps and “N’Oatmeal” Raisin (no oats!)  We are just now launching our fabulous Graham Crackers in two flavors:  Classic and Chocolate.
Sarah Velasco: Are there any common misconceptions people may have?
Mary Waldner: It seems like such a trend to go gluten free and I frequently hear people say that gluten free food is healthier, which is not necessarily true.  Most gluten free products are made with the same highly refined, empty ingredients that lots of common foods are made of.  If you have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, eating gluten free, even gluten free junk food, is going to help you feel better.  But junk is junk, whether it’s gluten free or not.
Sarah Velasco: Where can readers find your products?
Mary Waldner: Our products are sold in all natural food stores, co-ops, Whole Foods, and such.  We are also in lots of grocery chains like Safeway, Wegmans, Raleys, and more.  Sometimes our products are in gluten free sets inside a store, so you have to ask where we are.  You can also buy our products on Amazon, on our website (www.marysgonecrackers.com) where we have a Store Locator as well.
Sarah Velasco: Anything else readers should know?
Mary Waldner: The most important aspect of Conscious Eating is pleasure and joy and all of our food tastes GREAT!