Salt Lake City
Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Salsa & Chips
Founder Linnaea Mendoza puts a personal touch on America's favorite condiment: salsa.
In 2008, Mendoza's husband was laid off from his job. A finish carpenter, he was struggling in a depressed market.
"I realized we did not have a lot of money for Christmas," says Linnaea. "But in my job as a medical assistant at a family practice clinic, I made salsa for different parties. Salsa is so popular right now. It's America's favorite condiment. People buy more salsa than ketchup. And people told me they would buy it. And my daughter started selling it to our neighbors. And they bought it! So I decided, maybe I can sell more and make enough money for Christmas!"
And so she did. With high hopes, Mendoza prepared 156 bottles of salsa. "It was everywhere!" she remembers. "There was salsa in every cupboard in our house. We joked that if it didn't sell, everyone was going to get salsa for Christmas and their birthday for the rest of their life."
But it did sell in her first market in Taylorsville, Utah. In fact, it sold out on the first day. She went to another market in Murray. "People bought it there, too!" Mendoza says. Even better, she had a customer from Taylorsville drive all the way to Sandy to get more. "It was the craziest thing ever!"
Mendoza decided to start a business. She learned the rules, got her kitchen approved by Utah as a Cottage Food Establishment, and kept moving forward. Today her products are sold in small, local markets as well as large local grocery stores such as Harmon's Grocery and Ream's Food Stores.
In expanding, Mendoza pays a great deal of attention to local products and local farms. She primarily sources her tomatoes from a local farm in Riverton, Utah, and her peppers from other local farms in the area.
"Everything is local but our cilantro," Mendoza says. "Even our labels are done by a company in Utah. We counted and discovered that every jar of our salsa has six local companies inside of it."
Salsitas Mendoza also quickly moved out of Mendoza's home and into a commercial kitchen. The company has moved three times to accommodate growth and a better schedule for her and her family. "We've moved from a commercial kitchen on the graveyard schedule, to a commissary space where we had our own section to a double warehouse that has been converted into a kitchen space," she says.
Even though they are in a larger space, a great deal of personal attention is put into every unit. As she always has, Mendoza cans each unit herself, no easy task now that she sells about 50,000 to 75,000 units a year.
"When our family was in a sticky financial situation and we had to can, my sister-in-law's grandma took the time to help me learn how," she says. "Out of her little time, we were truly born."
Challenges: A steep business learning curve. Mendoza was surprised by the degree of licensing and paperwork involved to sell food to the public. "But my confidence grew with each challenge," she says.
Opportunities: Mendoza is trying to confirm a contract with Associated Food Stores. "We have corporate approval, but got placed on the backburner while they are restructuring. I want to be a part of that chain," she says.
Salsitas Mendoza is also working with other local Utah businesses to put together a fundraising catalog. "We want to give back and help the community that has given so much to us."
Needs: Newer equipment. For Salsitas Mendoza to grow, Mendoza knows she needs to invest in bigger and better tools of the trade. First on her dream list? A chip frying machine and a bottle filler. "We have a good thing going right now," she says, "but to get to the next step, we need better equipment."