With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

24 September 2009

Q & A with Peter DeRousse, Owner of Free From Market

Continuing Food Allergy Buzz's series of Q & A's with specialty food store retailers for the food allergic community, I'm pleased to share FAB's Q & A with Free From Market's owner, Peter DeRousse. Thanks to Peter for agreeing to do the Q & A and for his thoughtful answers.

Please tell us more about yourself and your connection to food allergies, food intolerances and/or celiac disease.
My wife Shelly and I have two daughters, the youngest of which is allergic to soy.  The eldest has life threatening anaphylactic allergies to dairy and egg, Celiac Disease, asthma, and severe environmental allergies to dogs, cats, mold, dust mites and trees.  We were founders of a local chapter of POCHA (Parents of Children Having Allergies) and every year we raise funds for food allergy research through FAAN and FAI.  My single most relevant credential is that I have two kids with life threatening allergies, asthma and Celiac disease.  I want them to enjoy variety in their diet, clean air, optimum nutrition in spite of their restrictions, and for others to understand and take their restrictions seriously.  Our customers want these things too.

What inspired you to open Free From Market and when did you open for business?
We opened Free From Market in March, 2009, because we were disappointed by the service, selection and experience to be found at other outlets.  Knowledge about allergy was generally lacking and consequentially also lacking were a broad selection of products that would give the most people the most options.  The idea was to create a total allergy specialty store with everything in one place – the region’s largest selection of allergen free foods, HEPA air purifiers, mattress encasements, pharmaceutical grade supplements, etc.  As consumers ourselves, we also wanted a place to shop that would maximize convenience and be cheery, would allow people to try new products with confidence, and would have hours that fit the lives of busy professionals.  We opened in March 2009 and launched www.freefrommarket.com the following month.

What was your principle line of work? Have you always been an entrepreneur?
I was a professor of Classics (Greek and Latin language) and I spearheaded the effort to create a Classical Studies program at DePaul University starting in 2001.  That was an entrepreneurial effort, I suppose.  Once the program was successful and mature I decided to move on to something new. 

Free From Market is different.  It began as a platform for what were our two principle preoccupations: being advocates for those with food allergy and raising funds to support research toward a food allergy cure.  These will always be fundamental to the mission of Free From Market.  It is about building a community of which we are members, and has less to do with me or making a mark in businesses.

Who handles the day-to-day business? Who can customers expect to see when they visit Free From Market or speak to when they phone?
When people call or stop by the store, they are often greeted by Brittany, Nicole, Stacy or myself.  Shelly sometimes helps out on the weekends or at promotions.  I generally handle the business and marketing end, while Stacy is our buyer.  Everyone helps out on the floor and processes online orders.  We enjoy learning about our customers and their families and often fall into long conversations about the lifestyle that we all share.

What are the distinguishing features of Free From Market?

First, every ingredient of every product is in a database that can be filtered by any combination of the top eight food allergens, rice, corn and kosher.  This is a function that works for all products -- foods, tooth pastes, lotions, cleaners, cosmetics, vitamins, everything – and this functionality is available at www.freefrommarket.com as well.  To my knowledge, no other allergy store or website has vetted their non-food items too.  Within the store there are also handy icons on every product showing what they contain, so shopping is easy.  We will not stock anything that lacks a plain language, full disclosure label.  The staff re-reads every label of every product every time we restock.  We often catch recipe changes and announce them to our e-mail list or on Twitter.  The entire store is peanut, paraben and petrochemical free and 99% gluten free.  When it comes to food, we are most interested in younger, smaller brands that must make great advances in quality in order get the attention in a very competitive market place.  It is an exciting time to be doing this, because quality in some areas has improved tremendously.  We recently streamlined our internet ordering process so now the website server and in store computers are synchronized so as to track a single inventory.  This makes the entire operation very efficient.  We’ve also negotiated cheaper shipping, so we can offer free shipping for orders over $100. 

Most important, however, will be a fund raising program that we will unveil in our next fiscal year.  In partnership with the Food Allergy Initiative we will begin raising funds for a food allergy cure.  I am very excited about this as it is fundamental to our corporate mission.  I do not want my daughter to be hospitalized ever again.  I want for Free From Market to be put out of business by a true cure.

Finally, which items are your biggest sellers? Do you have any specials coming up that you'd like to tell Food Allergy Buzz readers about?
Currently Gluten Free Pizzas of all sorts, anything that we get in from local GF and Allergy friendly bakeries, Sun Flour Bakery Cookies and Blue Air Purifiers.  Fresh bread from Andrea’s GF Fine Foods is also popular for not needing to be toasted.  All Blue Air Purifiers are 20% off through September, but this offer is not available online.  One must shop at the store or call to take advantage of the sale: (708) 590-6205.

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