The brains behind specialty baking solutions at Albertsons Companies Own Brands 

Clean ingredients. Specialty products. Gluten-free options. It’s never been easier to find exactly what you need in the baking aisle of an Albertsons Companies store.

Darlene Freeman is a big reason why.

Darlene is the Senior Product Manager for Albertsons Companies Own Brands and has worked in center store product management for 13 years. With 65 percent of shoppers actively avoiding processed, artificial, or genetically modified foods, there’s no shortage of demand for Darlene’s expertise these days.

Darlene F Darlene (center) with her two daughters

Whether driven by food related allergies or simply a desire to eat healthier, specialty baking options are becoming mainstream. With the help of Darlene and her team, Own Brands has been expanding their specialty baking product offering with a wide variety of high-quality specialty baking ingredients to meet the needs of consumers.When you combine that expanded offering with the convenience of shopping with Albertsons Cos, it’s clear that Darlene is helping make customers’ lives easier across the country.

Before offering specialty baking ingredients in stores, Darlene reviews consumer insights and market sales data to identify shopper trends and find any gaps in the category offerings. When a gap is identified, she works with suppliers and her cross-functional product development team to determine if they can launch the product. The item must meet high quality standards and price point parameters before it can be added to the category. If the product meets these constraints, Darlene and the product development team test it against leading national brands.

“We taste every product to make sure it tastes as good or better than the leading national brand or we won’t carry it in the stores,” Darlene said.
Propelled by the pandemic and consumers spending more time at home, baking items saw a lift in 2020, including specialty baking items that are organic, gluten-free, keto, vegan, paleo or “free-from” products with clean labels.

Some of the most popular solutions offered by Albertsons Cos. are Open Nature almond flour, O Organics white and brown sugars, Open Nature gluten free baking flour, O Organics corn meal, and O Organics chocolate chips and chunks. 

“For almost every conventional ingredient in our baking aisle, we have an organic option available,” Darlene said. “Our goal is to have a full offering for our customers to be able to complete their recipe with all organic items if they choose. We’re really trying to cover everything the organic shopper is going to need.”  

It’s not just organic items that are trending with home bakers. Darlene noted shoppers are looking for healthier options such as those with lower sugar, less carbs, and clean labels. “Consumers are very smart about products and they are reading labels. They want to know what is in the products they are consuming. Clean label ingredients are very important and that’s just one of the things our O Organics and Open Nature brands offer customers,” Darlene said. 

The newly launched  Open Nature buttercream frosting mix in vanilla and chocolate flavors was recognized by Store Brands as one of the best new products in 2020. The product joins a lineup of Open Nature gluten-free baking mixes that were launched in 2018, including chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and cakes. 

“Our Open Nature baking mixes provide fast, easy, delicious, and healthier baking options for our shoppers,” Darlene said. “With gluten-free items there is a perception that it doesn’t taste good, but that’s just not the case with our gluten-free mixes.” 

From almond and coconut flour to oat milk and chia seeds, there’s something for everyone in the Albertsons Cos. baking aisle. Not sure where to begin? Why not start with some recommendations from Darlene:

Open Nature gluten-free brownie mix
“It will be the best brownie you’ve ever had! It’s everything you want in a brownie – soft, chewy, with a great chocolate flavor.”

Open Nature gluten-free cake mixes
“They are very moist. If no one told you, I don’t think you would know they are gluten-free.”

Open Nature buttercream frosting mix
“It has the consistency and flavor of a buttercream frosting you’d get from a bakery cake. It’s that good!”