Agriculture, Specialty/Niche December 01, 2023
Passionate About Pasta
These North Dakota sisters parlayed wheat from Midwestern farms into a thriving pasta business.
Innovation often spawns more innovation.
That was the case in 2020 when sisters Annie Gorder, Mollie Ficocello, and Grace Lunski started 3 Farm Daughters Pasta (www.threefarmdaughters.com).
"Our dad [Paul Sproule] has always been innovative on the agricultural side, always trying different crops," says Ficocello.
They researched and tested wheat varieties with high levels of resistant starch on their Grand Forks, North Dakota, farm. High-resistant starch levels are a health benefit for some consumers, such as diabetics. This led them to work with officials at the Northern Crops Institute in Fargo, North Dakota, to perfect a pasta formulation with health attributes while maintaining great taste and texture. They aligned with Bay State Milling Company, Quincy, Massachusetts, to manage the resistant starch variety in its identity preserved program.
Three years later, they sell pasta in more than 850 grocery stores, several restaurants, and online.
"We did not come from that [pasta] industry," says Lunski. "It was a learning curve for us. On the other hand, it has enabled us to be innovative in our own way without having prior experience."
Just two ingredients make up their pasta: Semolina durum wheat and wheat flour derived from a resistant starch wheat variety grown by their family and other select Midwestern farms.
Wheat-based pastas have faced competition from pasta derived from gluten-free ingredients.
"Gluten-free pastas are often popular for their better nutritional profile, but we positioned our pasta as an alternative by offering better nutrition while maintaining the taste and texture of wheat pasta," says Ficocello.
She adds 3 Farm Daughters Pasta has over four times the dietary fiber—9 grams per serving—of conventional wheat-based pastas. It also has 23% less net carbohydrates and 10% fewer calories.
"Another market are diabetics who struggle with sugar spikes," says Gorder. "Our pasta is third-party verified as low-ranking GI [glycemic index]." The lower the GI, the better for a diabetic's blood sugar, she adds.
Coming home. The company formed in 2020, a time when all sisters were home after pursuing college and careers away from the farm. They use their respective skills in company operations. Gorder uses her business education in company finance. Ficocello, an attorney, reviews legal documents and business relationships. Lunski uses her business and communications background in packaging and marketing.
Still, they often shift roles. "Where the fire is, that's where we go," says Gorder.
They've faced challenges, particularly when they launched the company during a pandemic.
"Everything was in short supply, such as cartons," says Ficocello. "We would often order more than we would need, because it would take us 12 weeks to receive them instead of the normal four weeks. It was a learning curve, but we are aligned with good partners."
Their pasta has also been showcased by such celebrities as food blogger Molly Yeh, who includes it in her restaurant, Bernie's, in East Grand Forks, Minnesota.
"I never thought I would be working with my sisters and slinging pasta," jests Gorder. "But they are not only business partners, but also my friends and sisters." ‡
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