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I’ve written before about how the pandemic has made cooking with my kids part of my normal routine. This is an opportunity to get them to help me in the kitchen and teach them how to eat healthy. It’s also an important opportunity for me to start breaking stereotypes about certain types of food not being good for them. One particular cuisine that is too often referred to as “unhealthy” is Mexican cuisine.
“From an American perspective, we think Mexican food is fried, full of cheese and topped with sour cream, and extremely greasy. And that’s just not true,” says Hector Saldívar, founder of Tia Lupita Foods. “There’s so much more to Mexican food than the Americanized burrito. Mexican cuisine has been and continues to be a pioneer in the realm of food – and it’s healthy.
Saldívar is therefore uniquely on a mission to change Americans’ relationship with Mexican food. As a Mexican founder, he knows that food is love. His mother, known affectionately as Tia Lupita (“Aunt Lupita” in Spanish), filled the family kitchen with love, laughter and tasty food that brought everyone together. “In Mexico, family recipes are treasured heirlooms carefully passed down from generation to generation,” says Saldívar. “Tia perfected her own family hot sauce recipe to create a delicious balance of heat and flavor, coveted by all who are lucky enough to taste it. I named the brand to honor my mother and our family heritage.
From hot sauces (my favorite is Tia Lupita Chipotle) to cactus tortilla chips, Saldívar focuses on removing preservatives, using gluten-free ingredients, and adding zero sugar and very little salt. Tia Lupita Grain-Free Cactus Tortillas are also soft and flavorful, with just six grams of net carbs and 45 calories per serving.
“It’s important to me to showcase these incredible ingredients that we have on hand that are so culturally connected to Mexico and my heritage – nopales or cacti. Cacti are the most sustainable plants in the world and need little water to grow,” says Saldívar. “We intend to reduce our carbon footprint and save water. We are on a mission to help save the world, one taco at a time.
Here are three lessons Saldívar learned on his journey to bring the bold flavors of his Mexican home straight to our kitchens:
Over-index on your strengths
As a child, Saldívar always thought he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor. After struggling through the first two years of medical school, Saldívar’s father sat him down and encouraged him to follow a different career path.
After leaving medical school, Saldívar had a successful career in the food industry working at Nestlé and Diamond Snacks. It was an amazing training ground to cast Tia Lupita. “I learned how to develop a business plan and understand the details of how much it would cost you to solve the problem and how much money you would ultimately make,” Saldívar says. He also learned the art of storytelling, with scripts and narratives on how to pitch and sell. And finally, understanding the basics of sales planning and forecasting was essential in his training.
“I’m over-indexing my strength now, which ultimately helped me launch Tia Lupita,” Saldívar says. “I had built a track record of success and the skills I needed to finally bet on myself.”
Image Credit: Tia Lupita Foods
Understand your market opportunity
In 2017, while Saldívar was working at Diamond Foods, the business was sold. He found himself at a crossroads. Did he work for another titan in the food industry or did he eventually go off on his own? “I saw so much white space and little to no competition,” Saldívar says. “The Mexican brands that were in the market had not updated their ingredients and were filled with bric-a-brac. They had not innovated and were comfortable offering bland or bland-tasting products. .
Saldívar envisioned creating a brand that was not aimed at his grandparents or his parents, but rather one that was authentic, original and connected to the next generation. “I started my career selling nostalgic products to Mexican immigrants,” says Saldívar. “Now I sell to children of Mexican immigrants who have grown up and are careful about what they put on their kitchen tables.”
Today, the purchasing power of Hispanics in the United States is $1.9 trillion, which is greater than the GDP of Italy. Hispanics make up 20.8% of millennials, now the most diverse generation in US history. Three in four Americans agree that Hispanics continue to have a huge impact on the mainstream culture and a significant influence on the food industry.
Don’t underestimate the power of a
As a Mexican founder, the path to fundraising has not been easy for Saldívar. Although he initially started the business and was self-funded, he needed access to more capital and resources to continue to scale. “More people eat tacos than pizza and pasta, both in restaurants and at home,” he says. “But there’s still a significant underrepresentation of startups founded by Hispanics. I’m fundraising right now, and it’s definitely a struggle.
Saldívar also shares that being English his second language can make it more difficult for him to communicate in corporate settings and in meetings with investors. He describes having to translate what he thinks into English to make his point. Saldívar sees some investors making snap judgments meeting with him about whether or not he is “investable or bankable” as a founder.
He looks forward to the world opening up again, where he and the Tia Lupita team can be in stores, holding field marketing events and attending food shows. Meeting people face to face and offering them Tia Lupita products to try for the first time are the times Saldívar enjoys the most.
“We need more allies to pay attention to Hispanic founders and support us,” he says. “Don’t underestimate the power of an individual. If you try Tia Lupita and like it, share the experience. We need all the allies we can get.