Since launching the Mexican brand Tia Lupita, you could say founder Hector Saldivar’s business model has…evolved.
“I started this in 2018 with hot sauce. One single product, one single bottle, one single SKU, based on my mom's family recipe. For the longest time, I thought that the business model was just going to be me making hot sauce in the kitchen and driving around in my Jeep, taking personal orders and having transactions at the back of the store.”
Today Saldivar has a team of five and boasts 13 SKUs, which include cactus tortilla chips, cactus tortillas, salsa macha and a variety of sauces.
Despite a pandemic playing out in the background, Tia Lupita Foods has seen sales double year-over-year since 2019. Last year sales were $1.5M and Saldivar said he is on track to bring in $3M this year.
Saldivar said during the height of the pandemic, he noticed grocery stores were just trying to keep shelves stocked. Recognizing it wasn’t the right time to introduce a new product, Saldivar decided to pivot.
All eyes on ecommerce
“We weren’t in a lot of stores, so we focused on growing our online business. Every dollar that we had allocated to growing wholesale and brick and mortar we invested in Shopify, building a great web-based selling platform and also in our Amazon business,” he said.
Once the pandemic settled down, grocers were ready for something new: enter Tia Lupita. Fast forward to today, the brand is in nearly 5,000 stores. Tia Lupita can be found in the East and West coast, North Atlantic, Mid Atlantic, New York and Texas. Saldivar said the brand is penetrating the Midwest market “slowly” but surely.
Three of the brand's hot sauces are also set to hit the shelves at Walmart, Tia Lupita’s first mass channel customer. The brand is crossing borders, with the launch of a 32-oz bottle of hot sauce at Costco Canada.
‘Everyday is Taco Tuesday’
When asked what he attributes his success to, Saldivar said it comes down to two things that created the perfect storm.
“There's this amazing trend in food where people are focusing on better eating. They're looking for clean, simple ingredients. They are looking for certain attributes in food like non-GMO, gluten-free, low calorie, low sugar and low sodium. They're a lot more health conscious and there's also this big sustainability movement and we're offering all that,” said Saldivar.
“Something else really interesting and fascinating happened during the pandemic which was that Mexican food overtook Italian food as the number one ethnic food being consumed in the United States. So that means there's more people eating and cooking tacos than pizza and pasta. And so that blows my mind because as an immigrant originally from Mexico, pizza night was an American staple. There's nothing like pizza night in America. And so what started as Taco Tuesday, honoring diversity and celebrating other cultural food and ethnicities, now everyday is taco Tuesday. So those are part of the contributing factors as to why Tia Lupita has been so resilient in these difficult times.”
From ‘chili heads’ to the green consumer
Since expanding beyond hot sauce, Saldivar said he tweaked his marketing to reflect the rise in conscious consumerism.
“Because we started off as a hot sauce, that first year we were targeting chili heads. And so now we've evolved where we've become this platform brand and so now it's more about connecting with consumers that are interested in original and authentic recipes that are health conscious, that are looking for better-for-you attributes and that there is also this interest in helping save the the planet either by using upcycled ingredients or sustainable ingredients like cactus,” he said.
Tia Lupita introduced a line of tortillas and tortilla chips, making cactus the star ingredient.
“Cactus is one of the most sustainable, if not the most sustainable plant in the world because it grows in the desert, it needs very little water to grow. Then we can crop and harvest this twice a year. Cactus is the only plant, the only food in our ecosystem that actually thrives with current climate conditions, with global warming and climate change. So we tried to pivot our marketing to communicate a little bit more about that.”
Not your grandparent’s hot sauce
Saldivar said sustainability is something he didn’t see highlighted in the messaging of other Mexican brands.
“Sustainability is important now to new generations like Gen Z and millennials for example, and so that was the window of opportunity that I saw. There’s these tired legacy brands, they're the brands that my parents and grandparents used to use, but these brands are not willing to update their ingredient lists, they're not innovating, they fell into a comfort zone of offering the bland approachable Mexican food. And thanks to them, everyone perceives Mexican food as unhealthy,” Saldivar said. “We are this refreshed, updated version of a Mexican brand for new generations–not only for the Hispanic population, but for everyone.”