The story behind Jules Shepard’s new gluten-free company

In the gluten-free world it is easy to become brand loyal.  When you find a product you like, you stick with it. Jules Gluten Free Flour is a popular multi-purpose mix to use in daily baking.  Not only do customers like Jules Shepard’s mixes, books and newsletter, but they like her.

Shepard founded Jules Gluten Free, and has been very involved in the community, speaking at events, sending out recipes and making herself available via social media.  She also helped create the largest gluten-free cake for the 1 in 133 campaign which helped re-energize the community and the Food and Drug Administration about the gluten-free labeling rule in 2011.

But how things change. Now, Shepard is no longer with the company that bears her name and has started a new company called gfJules that will sell her products.

What happened and what’s next?

Shepard’s History
Shepard launched Nearly Normal Cooking and published a book in 2006.  Then in 2007, she perfected a flour blend.  “It took a really long time to get the formula right, much more difficult than I ever thought,” Shepard said during an interview this month at the Gluten-Free Living Conference, in Orlando, Fla.

“I was doing everything myself, customer service, etc., but I didn’t have any money to pay someone to help me,” explained Shepard.  In 2008, Tom Andrews, the father of her intern, became the company’s CEO.  He and his partners offered to buy into the company through sweat equity, which is an ownership interest created as a result of work done for the company. Anderson and his partners owned 50 percent as did Shepard.

After the new partners came on, the name of the company was changed from Nearly Normal Cooking to Jules Gluten Free.  Shepard produced the new formulas, wrote books, traveled, lectured at events and was the face of the company.  Andrews and his partners, who declined to be interviewed for this story, worked the day-to-day operations.

More recently, Shepard said she and her partners were not agreeing on much. “I thought the company needed to go in another direction,” Shepard said.  “They were more bottom-line centered, and I wondered about the community needs.”

“They were making major decisions without me, when they should have had a majority.  I wanted to be involved in those major decisions, but they started ignoring me,” Shepard said.

In early 2014, she wanted to dissolve the company and let everyone go their separate ways.  But Shepard said the others didn’t want that.  “We were oscillating in completely different worlds,” Shepard said.

Shepard officially resigned from the company March 18, 2014.  She posted a YouTube video about it.

Jules Gluten Free vs gfJules
Shepard is now starting over. But the transition is confusing her fans and customers because the former product bearing her name is still out there and readily available.  Shepard said she told her former partners she was officially revoking any license to use her likeness and name for Jules Gluten Free.  But the products and the website haven’t changed the logo or name, and the mixes remain on store shelves across the country.

She wants her customers to know she is no longer with the company.  In April, she started a new mix company, gfJules.

Now the case is moving through the court system.  Shepard hired intellectual property attorneys who she said believe her case is strong.

Aaron Davis, attorney and partner at Patterson Thuente Pederson, an intellectual property law firm in Minnesota., is not a part of Shepard’s case and has no specific knowledge of the details. But in general he said many people go into business without proper planning. “Almost all business relationships come to an end, yet many people/companies fail to agree up front as to how they would separate when the relationship splits down the road,” Davis said.  “Thus, break ups are often far messier than necessary, because the separation terms are unclear or non-existent.”

Shepard said she has learned that she should not go into a business partnership and have less than a 51 percent share.

Starting Anew
Meanwhile, Shepard has launched gfJules.com, a new website from which you can purchase her products.  She said the flour and mixes will be exactly the same as the ones customers are used to, but under the gfJules brand.  Her fans have rallied around her and spread the word of her resignation.  “The community has buoyed me in ways I never expected,” Shepard said.

She is excited about the future and hopes one day to be able to employ gluten-free people for this new gluten-free brand.  For more information about her new venture go to her new website.

Amy Leger is family editor for Gluten-Free Living, and frequently contributes other stories as well. She blogs at The Savvy Celiac.

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