“I’m originally from Monterrey, Mexico, and when I moved here [to the US] 15 years ago, my Mom [affectionately known as Tia Lupita or 'Aunt Lupita' in Spanish] would ship me bottles of her hot sauce [utilizing a third-generation hot-sauce recipe from his great-grandmother] because that’s what Moms do, you know, you leave the house and they worry about you not eating well,” Saldivar told FoodNavigator-USA at the Winter Fancy Food Show last month.
“So I start sharing them with friends…”
Fast forward 15 years - during which Saldivar worked in a variety of commercial roles at big names from Nestlé to Diamond Foods – and he finally decided the time was right to test his theory that there was room in the market for a brand putting a healthier spin on traditional Mexican foods. (His employer, Diamond Foods, had also just been acquired by Snyder’s Lance; prompting a 'now or never' moment for Saldivar.)
“Your typical mainstream Hispanic brands were not bringing any innovation to the market; they were still using a lot of junk, sodium, binders, the same old stuff…
"We’re focusing on Millennials, Gen Zs… 30… 33% of the new generations are Hispanic [editor’s note: according to Pew Research data 25% of Gen Z-ers are Hispanic] and they are paying attention to what they eat and sharing their cultural heritage so hence we see the trends in spicy foods and ethnic eating,
“In only two years we are in four regions of Whole Foods and performing really well, we’re also in Wegmans, The Fresh Market… but still have a lot of distribution to gain.”
"A regular tortilla has around 90 calories and 15-17g of carbs; our tortillas have only 30 calories and 4g of net carbs... so in my mind that's guiltless taco nights for the rest of my life..."
Hector Saldivar, founder, Tia Lupita
‘I want to introduce Nopales to the US market in an approachable way’
He began with hot sauce, but has gone on to develop a range of tortillas and totopos (tortilla chips) utilizing Nopales, a drought resistant cactus popular in Mexican cuisine, with products in 1,000+ stores.
"Cactus has the same superfood properties as kale, moringa, goji berries and kelp, and it’s one of the most sustainable foods on the planet as it grows in the desert and needs very little water… I want to introduce Nopales to the US market in an approachable way as an ingredient [in foods that Americans already eat, such as tortillas and chips]."
Clean ingredients, innovative products, and authentic family recipes
The gluten-free tortillas – which also contain cassava flour, white corn masa, sea salt, and water - are significantly lower in calories than regular tortillas; while the totopos - which contain Nopales, cassava flour, coconut flour, avocado oil, and chia seeds - meet consumer demand for "clean ingredients, innovative products, and authentic family recipes," said Saldivar, who is looking to “continue to explore the Hispanic realm of products.”
'We only use ingredients that my Mom would find in her pantry back home'
While the tortillas, chips, and sauces are all in different categories of the store with three different buyers, they compliment each other and can be sampled together, he said.
"We only use ingredients that my Mom would find in her pantry back home. There is a huge white space... Retailers like Whole Foods see the potential of having options like these for their shoppers.
"We are a trend and the market is coming to us."