I was given the opportunity to travel to North Dakota to visit Red River Commodities and the sunflower fields that make
Top 8 Allergen & Gluten Free SunButter Sunflower Butter and to learn about their processes, as well as, commitment to allergen control.
Below is the sponsored post as it relates to the brand and my trip. All opinions are my own. Disclosure.
I've been fortunate over the past few years to get to know many food allergy and gluten free brands on a deeper level. Having been afforded the opportunity to attend meetings, talk to the owners, and even travel on their behalf.
Although they're doing great things by providing us with a product, there are few out there that truly care about our community with drive and passion. It's not just a profit, they realize they're a part of something much greater going on. They're changing lives... saving lives. For me, SunButter saved ours almost ten years ago.
Little Miss was diagnosed with anaphylactic food allergies at nine months old. SunButter became my staple - when I didn't have much money as a single mom but knew a protein packed jar could get me through.
At first, it was just for me, but once Little Miss became old enough she was eating those SunButter and honey sandwiches right alongside me.
Though her boys are younger than Little Miss, Cindy of Vegetarian Mamma and her family found the brand much in the same way I did - looking for a safe allergy friendly alternative.
Thus grew our joint passion for sharing the brand's message and dedication to the community. We were thrilled at the chance to dive deeper into SunButter's story through our #SeedtoSunButter travels.
Red River Commodities is the parent company of SunButter Sunflower Butter, SunGold Foods, and Valley Splendor.
RRC has produced it's own hybrid GMO free seed that is grown by carefully selected and contracted farmers in the region. By creating their own seed, they're ensuring the quality standards they hold to produce products that are perfect for baking and snacking.
Each step of the process is monitored - seed selection, planting, harvest, storing, processing, packaging, and delivering. This is something unique to RRC... Other companies selling packaged sunflower seeds or sunflower seed spreads source the seeds from farmers all over the world, without concern for allergens, quality standards, or uniformity. (Remember that huge sunflower seed recall and listeria outbreak that happened? Yeah, that's why SunButter & SunGold weren't effected.)
Getting to meet some of the growers during our trip was probably my favorite part. It was harvest time while we were there, so Cindy and I each got to take a ride on a combine and learn more about the process.
I had seen sunflowers turned brown, with the heads dropped before, and assumed they were "dead" - When in fact, that is what they look like when they're ready to be harvested.
Farmers have a small window to harvest the field once the sunflowers are ready. They must get all their fields completed before it gets too cold, before they get rained on/ too wet, and before the birds have their way with them.
The farmers we met were each working over 100 hours a week to complete their harvesting. Filling truck after truck full of seed, then taking it to a RRC receiving station for inspection and storage.
When the seeds arrive at the receiving station, samples are taken for inspection to ensure quality and to check for foreign matter(s).
Once the seeds are unloaded, they're stored in towering silos so they can be kept dry and the air circulated by fans.
RRC prides themselves in keeping their facilities tree nut & peanut free. They also keep them Kosher and Organic certified. The company employs the latest in cleaning technology and food safety systems to maintain their high quality of standards and control.
Once ready for processing, the seeds go through a six-step process through different machinery, on multiple levels of the factory - Letting gravity do most of the work, it sorts, cleans, and shells the seeds.
Again, through this process they are taking samples and inspecting to ensure their quality of standards are kept.
What I also loved is nothing goes to waste! Hulls (or shells) are used for animal feed and bedding.
When SunButter production begins, seeds are roasted on a special line only used for SunButter that's in a separate building connected to RRC's processing plant. The SunButter facility and lines are completely Gluten Free and Top 8 Allergen Free. It's also free from the Canadian 10 Priority which includes being mustard free, sesame free, and free from sulphites.
We had to get coated up with cute shoe booties and wash our hands, in fact, before we could go in and see the whole process up close. Hair nets for the win!
Once the seeds are roasted, they enter the mixing stage. Depending on what kind of SunButter variety they are making determines what is "added". All of the machines go through a strict cleaning process before making the Organic variety. From there the varieties change based on those added ingredients - for example, they might next run the No-Sugar Added since it has no added sugar but does contain salt. From there they could do the Natural, and so forth and so forth.
We were limited on the photos we could take for proprietary purposes, so be sure to watch the video above.
The spread goes through a mixing and heating process, cools down, and then is heated again so it can travel easily through the factory until its jarred, or filled into 5lb.Tubs or sample cups.
Through the jarring process, the containers are manually checked and then go down the line to be blasted with air. They are filled with the SunButter Sunflower Butter, properly lidded and sealed, manually inspected again, and then continue down the line for boxing.
By the way, if your family goes through SunButter as quickly as mine does, the 5lb. Tubs are your new best friend. Great if you do a lot of baking, especially with the holidays coming up!
What sets the SunButter brand apart is their commitment to quality control, product standards, and the food allergy community.
They sponsor and give free samples to so many gluten free and food allergy events, expos, fundraisers, support groups, etc. They also have an amazing school program in place to help keep children with food allergies safe, while still offering a nutritional alternative.
SunButter isn't just a brand, it's a partner in our food allergy community. And it starts... with a seed.