Co-founder and CEO of Kumana, Francisco Pavan, grew up in Venezuela where the Avocado-based sauce was a common addition to many meals, namely barbecue and grilled meats.
The company was approached by Safeway (owner of Albertsons) a few months ago at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, California. The newly-minted distribution agreement with the major retail chain launched Kumana avocado sauces in 400 Safeway and Albertsons stores in Northern California and Portland, Oregon a few weeks ago with plans to enter into several hundred more stores nationwide in the coming months, the company added.
Kumana was also recently selected as one of the five food and beverage startups to be included in the Kraft Heinz Springboard incubator program which includes an initial $50,000 investment and access to the company’s network of food industry experts as well as business development workshops in a communal work space in Chicago.
“Kraft Heinz has extremely deep expertise in this field, “ Pavan told FoodNavigator-USA. “We’re innovating with new products and they have tremendous amounts of operational experience; so for both of us it’s a win-win.”
Kumana is also helped by its strong board of directors including industry veterans like Jeremy Smith, CEO at the Launchpad Group who has worked with brands including Chobani and Popchips, and Pat Turpin, CEO at Kona Deep, who previously served as the president and co-founder at Popchips.
From auto parts to avocado sauce
Due to ongoing economic and political upheaval in his home country of Venezuela, Pavan emigrated to the US to attend college and worked at investment banking firm Goldman Sachs upon graduation. He soon after set up the US office for his family business of selling auto parts to Toyota.
After following a job opportunity at one of Toyota’s subsidiaries outside of Tokyo, Japan, where Pavan frequented third-wave coffee shops and barbeque restaurants to get a taste of home, he decided to return to Los Angeles where he met his co-founder.
In Los Angeles, he began preparing and sharing the avocado sauce sampling it with family and friends.
“I made it basically because we couldn’t find it at any grocery store,” he said.
The team expanded its test market to Grand Central Market in downtown L.A., a food hall and hub for diverse and multicultural food.
How consumers are using Kumana:
While grilled meats and barbecue are the typical use for the Venezuelan avocado sauce, Pavan has noted the rise of other ways people are consuming the product in the US, from a topping to eggs and tacos, to a more unexpected use as a pretzel dip.
"Another one that was very interesting to us was as a replacement to mayo," he added.
After proving its product concept in Grand Central Market, Pavan and his co-founder began working with a San Francisco food development company to tweak its recipe and added two flavors to its range – a sweet version called “Be Sweet” incorporating mango puree and a “Be Hot” product with a spicy kick from habanero peppers.
The original avocado sauce is most similar to the version found in Venezuela, Pavan added.
Innovating the condiment category
A growing consumer perception that condiments and sauces are an unnecessary and unhealthy addition to food has been a roadblock for the category that’s grown at a tepid annual rate of 2% between 2011 and 2016, according to Packaged Facts.
Many condiments manufacturers have responded by introducing low-sugar, low-sodium or organic “free-from” variants of their mainstay products, but returning the category to more notable growth will require re-imagining the condiments aisle.
Packaged Facts specified that the introduction of new and exotic flavor profiles will be the leading trend in sauces and condiments space, evidenced by the explosion of hot sauces especially the sudden rise of sriracha sauce now found next to ketchup and mustard in many household pantries and refrigerators.
“Outside from other companies doing a ‘fancier’ versions of existing condiments, there hasn’t really been anything new or breakthrough in the category for a while,” Pavan said.
“Most of our peers are formulated with water or vinegar as the first ingredient. It’s a category that’s ripe for some new, fresh innovation.”
In addition to exotic roots, Kuman avocado sauces are non-GMO, contain no added sugar, and its main ingredients include avocados, onion, bell pepper, garlic, cilantro, and a splash of vinegar.
"We love that we took a Venezuelan condiment and introduced it to the mainstream [US] market," Pavan added.