Episode 2: Seeing Collaboration As The Key

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Keys to Success: Rebranding and Collaboration

“I knew if I really wanted to grow my business, and not just treat it like a hobby, I really needed to make big changes.”

– Arisbe Castellanos, Mi Cocina

The business

Founded in 2015 and based in Cornwall, Ontario, Mi Cocina makes traditional, handcrafted Mexican salsa and tortilla chips.

The challenge

When the pandemic shut down farmers’ markets, Arisbe’s lost her primary outlet for sales. 

The pivot

Without a means to keep her business afloat, Arisbe launched an online store and local delivery service.  She also pushed to get on more retailer shelves and initiated a gift basket series with other local food and drink producers. 

The result

Mi Cocina gained an online presence, established new partnerships, and increased her number of retail outlets from 3 to 15. 

Facing up to crunch time 

When Arisbe first launched Mi Cocina in 2015,  her main offerings were Mexican cooking classes and catering—two things gave her the flexibility to work from home and care for her three children. But after completing the Cornwall Enterprise Centre’s Starter Company Plus program and taking an online course to get “retail ready”, she decided to focus more intently on developing her own product line of traditional Mexican salsas and corn tortilla chips. 

At first, Arisbe used farmers’ markets to bring her product to the people but then also started to slowly introduce her products to retail stores. 

“When I started with the markets, I sold my salsas in regular mason jars with basic labels,” she says. “But since visual identity is the first thing people notice, I knew I had to professionalize my brand.”

So in 2018, Arisbe pulled together a team to help her rebrand. Together, they redesigned her logo, changed over to new packaging with new labels, wrote monthly newsletters, and launched a website.

“That that gave me the confidence to start approaching bigger stores and saying ‘This is what I have to offer.’”

Just as she felt she was gaining momentum, the pandemic hit.

“I went from having a steady income to zero income overnight.”

After the initial shock of realizing that all her points of sales shut down, Arisbe decided to make bold moves so that her business could survive.

She started by pivoting to online sales and local delivery, something she says was well supported by the community. And then she took the shutdowns as a push to approach more retail stores.

“I was nervous,” she admits. “But I had more confidence thanks to my new branding. Retailers could understand that they were getting a quality product.” 

With her new tools, packaging, and a perfected pitch, Arisbe managed to grow her list of retailers from three to 15 over the course of one year. 

During that same period, Arisbe also decided to initiate collaboration with local vendors as a means of supporting and cross-promoting each others’ businesses. She reached out to food and drink producers, worked out price points, created a social media marketing plan, and started offering the first of four gift baskets. The Father’s Day BBQ package was first released in June 2020, followed by a Picnic Basket in July, an OktoberFEAST basket in October, and finally, a Holiday Charcuterie Box in December. Arisbe says that even though the collaboration baskets were loads of work to coordinate and only represented 3% of her total sales in 2020, their value was more about bringing more awareness to her brand. 

“Someone gifted one of our baskets to the owner of an Independent grocery store in Ottawa and now Mi Cocina is on their shelves.”

All of Arisbe’s efforts—the rebrand, the push into retail, and the collaborations—were rewarded with a 10% increase in sales in 2020. Given all the challenges thrown at her, she’s proud of what she accomplished and continues to build on this success in 2021.

Lessons learned

Arisbe says her experiences with her business taught her that action—not perfection—is the goal. “I know now that things aren’t always going to go off the way I thought they would. But I just need to execute my plan and learn from whatever ends up happening.” 

Her advice to others? “Have the courage to take risks! It’s important for growing your business—even if those risks don’t always lead to success.”

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