Happy Heart Specialty Foods
Sue Blauvelt has experienced how difficult it can be for children and adults who have celiac disease to find a wide variety of gluten-free food products. Diagnosed with the disease herself in1990, she now provides a wide variety of gluten-free and other organic and natural foods through her business, Happy Heart Specialty Foods in North Platte.
"Back when I was first diagnosed, there was practically nothing gluten-free on the market," Blauvelt says. "You couldn't manage the disease very well, compared with what is available today."
Celiac disease is a digestive condition caused by sensitivity to the protein gluten. The gluten triggers an immune reaction, which causes the body to create antibodies to eliminate it. This can damage the small intestine and result in the reduced absorption of important nutrients and long-term complications.
It is estimated that more than three million people in the United States are affected by celiac disease but only a fraction of that number have been diagnosed. The disease can be effectively managed by following a gluten-free diet, avoiding any ingredient derived from wheat, rye, oats (although gluten-free oats are available), barley or malt. This includes non-food products such as cosmetics, lotions and personal care products. The diet must be followed for a lifetime because ingesting even small amounts of gluten can lead to problems in the intestinal tract.
Happy Heart carries a full line of supplements, organic and natural foods, gluten-free foods, organic produce, health and beauty products, bulk foods, frozen and dairy products, as well as household laundry and cleaning supplies and books.
"I attend a lot of trade shows so I can bring in new products all the time," Blauvelt says. "I like to carry a little bit of everything."
Originally owned by a North Platte physician, Blauvelt had co-owned the business since May 2011. In October 2012, she was able to buy out her partner and assume ownership. She has four other employees who work part-time.
Blauvelt says the purchase was made possible with the assistance of Jason Tuller, director of the Nebraska Business Development Center office in North Platte, who worked with her to develop a business plan.
"The input and advice Jason had were very helpful when it came to getting a loan."
Blauvelt sees a growing market for Happy Heart. "More and more people are on gluten-free or special diets, and a lot of people are eating organic foods," she says. "People are always looking for new products and foods to buy, and I am happy to provide them."