For Hector Saldivar, founder of Tia Lupita, sharing his family’s hot sauce recipe is akin to welcoming you into his kitchen for a home cooked meal. In Mexico, there is a cultural tradition of family recipes being passed down from generation to generation. Hector, with his mother’s blessing, has taken her hot sauce and bottled it for everyone to enjoy because some recipes are just too good not to share with the world.
As part of Cat Footwear’s Collaboration with Startup To Storefront Podcast celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, Startup host Diego Torres-Palma had the opportunity to sit down with Hector to tell his story on how he convinced his mom to let him commercialize their secret family hot sauce recipe and how he was able to grow it into the brand it is today.
Read a few excerpts from their conversation below and follow both Cat Footwear (@catfootwear) and Startup to Storefront on IG (@startuptostorefront) for the opportunity to win a pair of Pro Rush Speed FX :
Diego: For people who don’t know, what it Tia Lupita foods?
Hector: Tia Lupita Foods is a “Better For You” Mexican inspired food-brand that uses clean simple ingredients in all of our products. We are the first brand in the United States to introduce cactus or nopales as an alternative functional sustainable ingredient in our line of tortilla chips and tortillas
Diego: What made you want to start the company?
Hector: I’ve been involved in food and beverage consumer package goods all my life. That’s what I did for my career and what brought me to the United States. I’m originally from Monterrey, Mexico and I came here 17 years ago, going to Sacramento to work at this Mexican startup that was commercializing and distributing a powdered soft drink with the Hispanic flavors. From there I had been progressing through the ranks of different companies. Through this journey, I started to realize that the Mexican, Latino & Spanish brands that were being offered here were not updating their ingredient lists. They were still using a lot of high-sodium artificial ingredients, a lot of junk, and were not innovating. They were just very comfortable offering just just your bland approachable to flavors and foods.
Most importantly what I realized is that for new generations these brands have lost their authenticity or their connection to their originality. Imagine these legacy brands have been on the shelf for 50-60 years. For new generations, these are mainstream brands. They’re not keeping up with the new trends.
Diego: So you’re like, “Alright cool, I see the space.” From there, how did you decide what product to go with first?
Hector: When I moved here my mom, Lupita, would send me care packages with a family recipe hot sauce that had been passed down to a single family member of each generation.
From there on, I’m the guy who brought the hot sauce to work and people would ask “What’s in that bottle?”, almost immediately when they see a funky looking bottle that doesn’t have a label.
I would say “Oh it’s my mom’s hot sauce. I put it on my salad or my sandwiches.”
The response was always “Can I have some of that ?”
I was surprised that when I started sharing my hot sauce that people started falling in love with it. They started stopping me in the hallway at work asking me to bring some back from Mexico. [The Requests] kept growing until it was unsustainable. That was sort of of the “AHA” moment for me. It wasn’t immediately after that. It took years, but the seed got planted, and it started to grow into the possibility of the business. I did have to fly my mom in to Sacramento and she spent a whole week and a half just teaching me how to prep the peppers and all that stuff, and then I had to make sure that we could scale it up.
Diego: That’s the thing about business. It’s ok to have one idea, but in order to be successful, you really have to have like four, five, or even six amazing bangers and that’s hard to do. So you knew the CPG game and from then on did you raise capital? Did you just put all your life savings in?
Hector: To be successful in CPG, you have to have a little naïveté and be a little foolish. When we started, I felt as though I only needed one hot sauce SKU.
[For Funding]The company that I worked for had been sold and so I got some severance money from that and I got a bonus . So with my wife’s blessing,( she’s said”Let’s see how it goes for a year”) we dove in.
I started the hustle right away – I mean I immediately put my door-to-door sales rep cap on. It was easy for me, just you know waking up early at the crack of dawn at 5 a.m. because I know that it’s a very tight window for buyers and grocery store managers to see you. Because then after 6 am everyday it’s go time. They won’t see anyone because they are super-focused on the inventory and receiving orders and the customers.
Fairly quickly we pulled a couple of accounts in San Francisco that jumped in because they loved the local factor and the story, and it ultimately caught fire in the Bay Area. Our buyers came back to us and informed us that our product was doing really well and what would help is if we had additional SKUs. By late-2018 we launched the second SKU which was Salsa Verde.
Diego: When you think about your journey, what’s story that you can share that you really feel like this is real now?
Hector: When I started, I was doing the Hot Sauce myself in a commercial kitchen. My mom had taught me how to do it and I could only do 7 cases of hot sauce every time I went to the kitchen. So the moment that I decided the orders and the velocity had outpaced, what I can do here. I went to a co-packer. It was nerve-wracking because I had to give them the recipe. It’s actually very scary, trusting this person with the recipe because even though you had NDA’s in place it’s easy to change a recipe and make it into something totally different.
In addition, we had to industrialize the recipe well. We constantly had to ask ourselves if you’re compromising the recipe too much, so we had a lot of conversation with other owners that have gone through the same thing. There are so many more stories that I can bring up of struggles that had to be endured.
To see the full interview with Hector head over to Startup To Storefront’s Youtube Page here