Create something delicious. Making something we can enjoy ourselves and be proud of is really important to us. I believe it pushes us to work a little harder every day. That is why we spent months in the kitchen developing our first recipe until it was absolutely perfect. Today, every product we make at Brazi Bites has to WOW, or it doesn’t get the green light to launch.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Junea Rocha, Co-Founder & CMO of Brazi Bites. She founded Brazi Bites with her husband in 2010 with the hopes that Americans would love Brazilian Cheese Bread (pão de queijo) as much as they did. In a few short years, they grew into a nationally distributed brand with a cult-like following after appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2015. Junea has a Civil Engineering degree and worked in that field for many years before making the leap to the food industry. In her time running Brazi Bites she has gained experience in all areas of business from sales, marketing, operations, and finance. She remains passionate and more inspired than ever to revolutionize the freezer aisle and make their products a staple in North America.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up surrounded by family in Southeast Brazil. I’m the middle child of three and very close with my brother, sister, cousins, and extended family. My memories are full of family gatherings and delicious homemade meals. My mother is a school teacher and my father is a Civil Engineer. Seeing them make and create things helped influence where I am today.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
After living in the U.S. for several years post-college, and working as an Engineer, my then-fiance Cameron and I decided to get married in Brazil. Many of our American friends made the trip to the wedding and after experiencing the amazing culture and food, they returned to the states gushing about the delicious Brazilian cheese bread. We kept hearing stories from other Americans about how much they loved the cheese bread in Brazil. That’s when the lightbulb turned on that there was an opportunity to bring authentic Brazilian cheese bread to America in an approachable way.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
So many mistakes were made in the early days! One of the most memorable was buying an old food truck and spending months renovating it with plans to start sampling Brazi Bites at events throughout Portland. It was an insane amount of work, and ultimately consumers never connected the dots that the cheese bread they were eating from the truck was also sold in their local grocery store freezer. We were driving brand awareness to the wrong place. So, we pivoted and sold the truck a year later and definitely did not shed one tear.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The food industry has relatively low barriers to entry so anyone can have a great recipe and start selling in farmers’ markets. Lack of focus and lack of understanding of cost structure are often the most common mistakes founders make when starting out. It’s okay to have a lot of offerings and try a lot of channels to start but very quickly you have to understand what is working and cut what is not. Brands often take too long to make those moves.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
Make the product! Take your idea and turn it into action. Bring your idea to life and start sharing with friends and family and go from there building out a business plan and understanding the cost of goods to get the product up and running.
Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?
It feels overwhelming when you look at all the work in front of you and that’s why so many people freeze. Take the first step and then start crossing items off the list every day, even if they seem small. After a while, you will see how much progress you’ve made and suddenly you have a real business in your hands. It does take time, but every small win will propel you forward and get you there. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is one of my favorite sayings. It teaches that even the most difficult ventures have a starting point; which begins with one step.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
There is no harm in going in either direction. If you have the skills, do it yourself, if you don’t, outsource it. Just make sure you do your diligence on anyone you are hiring.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
Some industries are capital heavy and bootstrapping is not an option. In industries where you don’t need a massive amount of capital to get started — such as the food industry — bootstrapping tends to lead to better outcomes for founders and companies in general. It allows you to make faster decisions, stay in control, and push you to be extremely focused — which is key to success. We bootstrapped Brazi Bites for 5 years and, while it was very hard at times, it is clearly one of the reasons for our success today.
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
Do your homework, ask your peers, get at least 3 quotes.
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Create something delicious. Making something we can enjoy ourselves and be proud of is really important to us. I believe it pushes us to work a little harder every day. That is why we spent months in the kitchen developing our first recipe until it was absolutely perfect. Today, every product we make at Brazi Bites has to WOW, or it doesn’t get the green light to launch.
- Make sure consumers want it and your product is not a me-too. The grocery space is crowded and thousands of new products are launched every year. Grocery buyers and consumers are looking for new products that are unique and offer multiple benefits. Brazi Bites was the very first brand to offer Brazilian cheese bread in the US in an approachable way, and it turns out consumers were eager to try our tasty, gluten-free, wholesome, bite-size creations.
- Brand it and package it in a way that makes sense. Grocery stores have a limited amount of space and they spend a lot of effort on merchandising optimization. Food producers should have a clear understanding of where their products should be merchandised, ideal size and what consumers care about in that particular category. At Brazi Bites, we always knew our products should be sold in the freezer section, so we have been very focused on what drives that category. Brazi Bites branding is colorful, eye-catching and fun — designed to communicate our values and be noticed behind freezer doors.
- Make sure you can scale manufacturing. It’s okay to start small, but in the event your idea really takes off, it’s important to have a vision for what it will take to scale manufacturing. That could mean building a larger facility or moving production to a 3rd-party (co-manufacturer). Both options have pros and cons and should be considered — the choice will depend on many factors around your business and your own capabilities.
- Build a great team that believes in your vision. Having a team of passionate, hard-working, (snack-loving) individuals has been one of the best parts about my journey of growing Brazi Bites. The team is the reason why we’ve been able to bring Brazi Bites to thousands of grocery stores nationwide and fulfill our mission to create joyful moments through our naturally gluten-free, instantly loved, and latin-inspired products.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
At Brazi Bites we have been obsessed with “delicious” since we founded the company and we’ve been able to do that by holding true to our value of using only simple, wholesome ingredients. Our first product took a year to develop and over 100 adjustments to the recipe until it absolutely blew us away. My advice is to be product and consumer-focused above all. If you make something delicious that people want the rest becomes a lot easier to manage.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
My biggest impact in making the world a better place is making foods that are better-for-you, with simple wholesome ingredients and replacing the junk so many consumers were buying from the freezer before Brazi Bites existed.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would like to inspire more women to go after their dreams and break the glass ceiling. More women need to be in boardrooms and leadership positions and we need to start by giving them the opportunity and addressing the structural problem our society has around childcare.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I love Gary Vaynerchuk and have been following him for years. His immigrant, work-hard, be-kind, be-happy mindset aligns with the way I see the world. I love his intensity and energy. I’m also a huge fan of Scott Galloway, NYU Marketing Professor and host of the Pivot and Prof G Podcasts. He’s thoughtful, funny, and has an interesting way to look at life and business events we are facing in 2020.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.