Stefanie Garcia Turner of TUYYO On 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand
An Interview With Martita Mestey
Trust in yourself to start. It can be so daunting but as soon as you start the next step will appear. And you keep walking those steps and before you know it you have a customer who bought your product and it feels awesome.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stefanie Garcia Turner.
TUYYO was created out of a desire to make clean ingredient Hispanic foods with a modern touch. “TU Y YO”, or you and I in Spanish, speaks to the bringing together of people to share foods, drinks, and create new moments.
The founder, Stefanie Garcia Turner, is a 2nd generation Mexican American from San Antonio, Texas who grew up with a strong tie to both her Hispanic heritage and her American roots. In 2020, as the world was shutting down, she went to grab the essentials she needed at her local Latin American market. She had what she describes as her lightning bolt moment, when she realized that, although there has been an explosion of natural foods and beverages over the past decade, very few of these products have been made with the Latino consumer in mind. The grocery shelves at these stores are still filled with the old brands that she grew up with and the same products in the same packaging sat on the shelves, most likely in the same spots they’ve always sat in.
With a background in food and retail, Stefanie decided to combine her love for natural foods and her Hispanic heritage and create TUYYO, bringing the world a new brand that is based on traditional tastes and flavors, but with products that are made better-for-you. She also wanted to use business as a vehicle for change, so she built in a give-back model that supports Latino non-profits doing amazing work in their communities across the US through in kind and monetary donations annually.
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”?
My father was in the U.S. Coast Guard, so I grew up moving around the states through my childhood. My dad oversaw the galley kitchens, along with being a boarding officer, so I learned my way around a galley very early which is probably where my love of food stems from. Being the middle child, I like to think I got equal parts of my parents, my dad’s analytical qualities and my mom’s creative and family-centered outlook.
When I graduated High School, I only applied to Johnson & Wales University because I wanted a career in food. I quickly realized I did not want to work in a restaurant 70 hours a week but did want to do something in the field. So, I worked at a national coffee chain, then a major natural foods retailer which is where I really learned how the food industry in the U.S. works.
After that I went to get sales experience at two celebrity founded natural product brands, commuting from Chicago to LA every few weeks, until I decided to be an independent consultant, helping start-ups looking to launch their businesses.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food or beverage brand you are leading?
My “ah ha” moment was seeing the same things in the Latin American market that I grew up with. Nothing changed, nothing really new or different. Not to say that the staples aren’t good or enjoyable but having worked in the natural products industry for years I was sad that there weren’t more cool, unique, innovative brands entering this market and serving the Latino/a/x consumer.
I thought, this is where I can make an impact and bring all my experiences together. Creating modern, healthier, and unique products that speak to my heritage and the tastes and flavors that I know.
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?
I’m not sure if it’s the funniest mistake but I have 4 giant trash bags filled with extra coffee canisters in my storage unit because I ran out of coffee ingredients before they could be all used up. I hate waste so I thought, I’ll come up with something creative to do with these, like a display of some sort for a tradeshow. For now, I’ll just keep them in my storage unit and dodge them dropping on me every time I go in.
Needless to say, this taught me to plan out my production runs better.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food or beverage line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The biggest mistake is underestimating how much money will be needed just to start. Unfortunately, in this line of business almost everything is paid up front before any sales are made. So, if an entrepreneur is bootstrapping, they need to figure out how much cash they need on hand to pay suppliers that don’t accept credit payments, and how they can utilize credit or loans to cover other expenses.
It can get tricky, and overextending is so easy to do. But I think starting with small production runs, even if its not the most cost efficient, will save a lot of money because most likely things will need to be tweaked for the next runs such as labels or formulations. This way you can sell through the first items quicker and get the new and improved options out faster.
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?
Do the market research. First and foremost. And then figure out how you want to launch and where. E-commerce is a much better option at first because it has low barriers and low promotional costs. But it is also really time consuming because no one knows who you are or what your products are, so you have to spend a lot of time getting people to find you.
Brick and mortar on the other hand have a captive audience with limited options in the store, but it can take a lot of money to launch depending on the retailer. Plus, you may need a distributor and that is where your profit margins can start to get squeezed.
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?
Start small. Don’t think you need to start with a super professional looking label or website at first. Start with farmer’s markets or maker’s markets to sell out small production batches and get feedback. Adjust from there and slowly grow.
It is easy to get distracted by brands that seem to be super successful, but more often than not, they aren’t profitable, or they are struggling behind the scenes. Just go for it and try, you never know what will happen.
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?
It depends on what the idea is. If it is for a complicated product, like shampoo, or something that holds a high level of risk, like baby food, it may be a good idea to get a consultant to make sure you have a professional assisting and avoid any mistakes that could be costly.
If it is something like a baked good, it may be ok to do it yourself and then see about commercializing it once the concept is proven.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
I’m a fan of bootstrapping only because I want to maintain control and be able to tweak my strategy and products at this early stage. However, this isn’t the reality for everyone. And if someone wants to grow fast then venture capital is probably needed.
It depends on the person and what their goals are and how much equity they are willing to give up to achieve those goals.
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?
Going to the right industry tradeshows is a must a worth the expense to get as many contacts as you can for things like packaging, ingredients, co-packers, and legal services. I have also found a lot of resources through networking. Just asking people if they know someone or some company that provides X is a great way to start getting a list together.
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food or Beverage Brand” and why?
- Trust in yourself to start. It can be so daunting but as soon as you start the next step will appear. And you keep walking those steps and before you know it you have a customer who bought your product and it feels awesome.
- Don’t get distracted. It is so easy to let social media and even other people distract you and send you into a rollercoaster of emotions. Try to be selective and limit your exposure to social media.
- Get help when you need it. This can be just hiring a freelancer to help with designing a sell sheet or asking a family member to help you at a market event. As you grow, you’ll gain more resources but be aware of your bandwidth, so you don’t burn out.
- Don’t underestimate family and friends. They are probably your first customers, and they are your biggest fans and will share your story and products with their circles. This is free marketing, make sure you show your appreciation to them!
- Constantly remind yourself why you started. This will get you through the challenging times and keep you motivated to continue the journey.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
I think it’s about starting with something you love, or that solves a problem in your world. Then see if more people love it or if it is also a solution to them and continue that process until it’s a success!
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
One important component of starting this business was to support smaller, more community-oriented Hispanic non-profits. As someone who has dedicated hours of time and resources to help grass roots movements, I know that real impact can happen at these local levels, and it is some of the most valuable. The company donates a portion of proceeds at the end of the year to a deserving non-profit as well as sponsors and supports events and organizations throughout the year as we are able.
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.
The biodiversity in our food system is being lost and replaced by easy to grow or more profitable crops. I would love for people to try more indigenous or heirloom foods and support the farmers and producers of these goods. These crops have nurtured us for ages and I for one would love to see more of these goods make it into markets to be discovered and enjoyed.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.