Meet Andy Anderson of Sourdough Heaven, a home-based bakery located in Indianapolis. His long career in animal health and nutrition broadened his understanding of good nutrition and healthy eating. He started baking sourdough bread right after graduate school and resumed the skill decades later after retirement, launching Sourdough Heaven. Keep reading to learn more about Andy’s premium sourdough business.
What did you do before starting Sourdough Heaven?
“I retired several years ago from Eli Lilly’s animal health division, Elanco. In 2012, Elanco acquired our Maryland based biotech company to explore antibiotic alternatives to promote animal growth and health. Known as alternative feed additives, these consist of enzymes, organic acids, probiotics, and prebiotics used, in place of antibiotics, to improve gut heath, nutrient uptake and metabolism. During my work in this industry, I learned a lot about nutrient digestion and gut health,” Andy said.
“It relates a lot to what I’m doing today with Sourdough Heaven. My sourdough bread is an artisan creation that delivers superior quality and health benefits. I use only premium organic whole grains, combined with sprouted grains, very similar to Ezekiel bread but in a sourdough fermented medium. The breads are high in fiber and protein, and I use absolutely no refined white flour. Instead, I use ancient and heirloom grains known for their higher nutritional value over modern day wheat varieties. My starter culture is 100% whole grain, usually a combination of rye, wheat and ancient spelt. Fermenting a whole grain flour gives the starter a tangier flavor. My long fermentation process also provides a stronger microbial community of enzyme producing lactic acid bacteria and yeasts that break down starches and proteins to help the bread’s texture and structure while also reducing the level of gluten. The higher acidity increases the availability of nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and other health related compounds.
“Sourdough is both a probiotic (good gut inhabiting bacteria) and a prebiotic (food for the good bacteria). Sourdough starter contains a live culture of Lactobacillus bacteria, good bacteria which also reside in our gut. These are called probiotics. The types of flours I use are high in dietary fibers, both soluble and insoluble. The soluble fiber, amylose, also known as resistant starch, is a prebiotic that is food for the good bacteria and helps maintain a healthy digestive system. The insoluble fiber provides bulk that promotes gut motility. I use Flourish and “HealthSense™ High Fiber Wheat Flour made by Bay State Milling in Quincy, MA as the foundation for my breads. Both flours are rich in prebiotic amylose fiber to support good digestive and immune health.
What is Sourdough Heaven's origin story?
“My passion started back when I was starting my first job out of graduate school in Iowa. I started in the international sales department of a privately owned pharmaceutical company. I was trying to do as much as I could to keep myself occupied in Iowa and I found sourdough bread baking a wonderful diversion. I made many loaves during that period all of which were donated. My German boss, who mentored me on sourdough bread baking, gave me lots of good advice,” Andy said. “I just enjoyed doing it and would have taken it farther had I not been transferred overseas; so, after about three years, my bread making came to an end.”
“Forty years later, I’m doing it again, picking up where I left off,” Andy said. “It’s not just bread making. This brand that I’m developing is more about creating a health-related product, which ties in very much with my background in food production animal nutrition.”
“All the reactions to my bread have been very positive. There have been a few that say they can’t eat my bread because they are trying to lose weight or are ‘gluten sensitive.’ This is where I make my elevator pitch, explaining why my bread is healthy and that it may help you lose weight due to its high fiber and low net carbs. I also explain that I have two breads that are low in gluten due to the type of grains and fermentation process I use. Many of my ancient grains have lower levels of gluten. Quinoa and sorghum have no gluten at all,” Andy said.
“Customers who claimed that they were gluten sensitive and tried my Sourdough Healthier Classic or Two-Olive with Mediterranean Spices had no digestive problems or complaints. They are all trying to avoid the store-bought refined breads and searching for healthier sourdough whole or sprouted wheat alternatives. “
“No one in the Indianapolis area that I know produces a whole grain sourdough like I do.”
How would you describe Sourdough Heaven's products in one sentence?
“A premium, whole grain bread that’s high in fiber, high in protein, low in net carbs with the nutritional and digestive benefits of sourdough fermentation.”
What's your favorite way to enjoy your products?
“Two of my customers recommended my Two-Olive with Mediterranean loaf served with an olive tapenade or feta cheese on the side. Another commented about my rye, served with cream cheese. My Cheddar Cheese with Tuscan Herbs can even be served for breakfast after it’s been buttered, toasted, and drizzled with honey. Some of my breads don’t require an accompaniment, like my Cheddar Cheese with Jalapeños and Chives which is a meal in itself. If I have leftovers, I’ll freeze it, thaw it out, and toast it,” Andy said.
Who is another food entrepreneur that you follow and support and why?
“Sourdough was introduced to the United States from Europe, and San Francisco has become the prominent source of artisan sourdough bakeries in the U.S. Tartine Bakery in Los Angeles is one of the bakeries that I follow the closest,” Andy said.
“Chad Robertson, the owner, has built an impressive business. They’re making mainly artisanal whole grain sourdough. I believe he buys some of his flours, like Yecora Rojo, from Cairnspring Mills in Washington state. I also use Cairnspring Mills for their Trailblazer and Expresso Yecora Rojo flours,” Andy said.
What's the best thing about this job?
“I really enjoy the technical side, communicating and building a very solid health based nutritional product that tastes great. Understanding the ways in which all these flours work together and the science behind it — that’s what I have fun doing.”
“I have close to 30 different flours that I’m sourcing from across the U.S. and Canada. All my breads are composed of three to five types of flours to enhance the flavor, texture, moisture, crumb and crust. All these flours behave differently, and the matrix created by combining so many in one loaf results in a truly remarkable quality and taste. There’s a fascinating technical side to all of this. I use spreadsheets to break down all my flours and calculate total fiber and protein content per 30 gram serving size. I score my flour combinations by crumb texture (moisture and airiness), volume (oven spring), color, crust formation and overall flavor, fragrance, and appearance (scoring and stenciling).”
What advice would you share with cottage bakers who are just getting started?
“Passion can be short-lived; it can dissipate quickly. You really must understand what you’re doing, the environment you're working in, and the market. These are mostly commodity-type markets, so you better have a strong entrepreneurial passion and be able to persevere and deal with the challenges you’ll run into.”
“Patience and perseverance are limited for a lot of people. You might be passionate, but there will be a lot of challenges — with customer reception to your products, competition, pricing, profitability. To really succeed, start by following the KISS principal (keeping it smart and simple), as low cost as possible, differentiated in value, and something no one else has. You have less concerns about the competition and pricing if it’s an inelastic type of price/demand situation; in other words, demand for your product will continue despite changes in price,” Andy said.
“Although it’s wonderful to be differentiated, the real challenge lies in convincing people to buy something new, a specialty product. You must teach people to appreciate your product and why they are paying an added value. Try to avoid taking the commodity track where everybody else is headed. Carve out your niche and find a place where no one else is competing. I just started a few months ago, but I’m very confident that I have a brand that will be successful.”