A trustworthy, hardworking team — Not just specific to food companies, individuals that are all on the same page, working towards the same goals, with a shared understanding that you will wear multiple hats while getting the company up and running are all super important.
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 Marlon Bolasingh.
Visionary, trailblazer and disruptor aptly describe food and beverage industry veteran Marlon Bolasingh and undoubtedly characterizes his Illustrious reputation and career over the past twenty years. His business acumen and transformative leadership skills remain integral to his ability to create and develop efficiencies within companies while also accelerating growth, building sustainable brands and surpassing industry standards.
Having served as the President of the Cholula Food Company, with over $85 million dollars in sales, Marlon quadrupled its revenue over a 6-year time frame achieving annual record growth throughout his tenure. His proven track record was further evidenced through his successful negotiation and management of distribution for a portion of the Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix. Under his management, this portion of business represented over $18 million dollars of sales and far outpaced the category and the brand owner, Proximo Spirits, by more than double the industry standard. Marlon was also able to navigate the Cholula Food Company through a strategic sale and led the diligence process for a +$350M transaction.
Prior to his role at Cholula, Marlon served as the Global Finance Director for Jose Cuervo International, managing over 50 countries and developing financial strategies to maximize brand profitability. Assisting in the company’s initial public offering on the Mexican exchange (Cuervo.mx) and participating as part of the Proximo Management Committee, a $1 billion dollar sales organization, allowed Marlon to provide insights across the organization’s various functions as part of his responsibilities. One of the highlights of his tenure in this role included the recovery of $5 million dollars in misappropriated funds from Cuervo’s UK operation after only three months on the job.
Marlon is currently the co-founder and CEO of The La Viuda Food Company — a company founded on the principles of “spice” and the promise to deliver premium condiments and beverages to global consumers. His partner and co-founder, Karen Beckmann, is a 12th generation descendant of the Jose Cuervo family.
An avid traveler and advocate for increased mentorship for the next generation of leaders, Marlon’s contribution to numerous charitable organizations is evidence of his unwavering commitment to making a positive difference both personally and professionally. His previous experience includes key roles at large corporations such as Viacom, Canon, Moet Hennessy and Reed Elsevier.
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”?
Sure, I grew up in Queens, NY. Both my parents are Jamaican immigrants who migrated to the USA with the mindset of starting a family and providing a better life for us. I am the second youngest out of a family of seven boys (no girls). We were raised in a household that was built on a foundation of hard work and determination. We were taught to live within our means, dream big and aspire for greatness. Our household was ultra-competitive, and my mother did not accept failure from anyone of us. We had a wide spectrum of personalities amongst all my brothers with a varied degree of professional capabilities. I do believe that this has helped me have a diversified skill set which in turn helped my career trajectory.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
The “ah ha” moment for me was when I received a call from my current partner and co-founder Karen Beckmann who came to me with a vision of starting a new hot sauce line and food company. It happened shortly after Cholula Hot Sauce was sold where I had served as President for 7+ years. To recall, I had a team of seasoned individuals standing behind me waiting to see what I was going to do next. I had access to them, along with a deep understanding of the supply chain and route to market in the hot sauce category that was booming and continuing to outpace similar categories in retail and a potential partner with lineage, creative passion, and a shared vision. All of the above made this a no brainer to join forces. The call from Karen quickly snowballed into several others and before you know it, we established the La Viuda Food Company.
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?
Sure, although it definitely wasn’t funny for me at the time, I was dealing with it. We are all creatures of habit.
I started setting up La Viuda exactly as I had established my previous company, the Cholula Food Company. I am sure people who have set-up multiple companies will tell you, just as you will learn if you have multiple children, each business will need to be treated independently and constructed to work based on how you anticipate that business coming to life. Cholula evolved from West to East coast in the US. La Viuda is evolving the exact opposite. The pandemic surely added an extra layer of complexity to the launch as well. Initially adapting to the necessary changes, we had to implement was hard. We have appropriately reallocated resources to fit within the organic development of our brand.
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?
Mass production of a product often changes the product you may have created in your kitchen or a laboratory. Involving your manufacturing partner in the process can typically help alleviate those issues upfront and save you time down the road.
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?
I like to start by looking at things from a legal and financial perspective. From there, I often ask, is the idea rooted in sound financial principles? Once you have completed the legal due diligence, then ask yourself, can I legitimately bring my concept to life the way that I may have envisioned it? If yes, then you can think through the marketing components such as, what makes your product different versus the competitive set that is currently on the market.
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?
Overcoming the hurdle usually requires a full-time commitment and persistence. I do not think there are many successful ventures out there where individuals did not put their undivided attention into the project. The reason for this most of the time is the resources required to bring the ideas to life. If you spend the time to understand the requirements for a project before beginning it, it typically can put you in a better place when bringing your ideas to life.
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?
What has worked for one person may not work for you. While I believe there are always things you can learn, avoid and effectively build off of when consulting others, I am personally a fan of going at it on your own. I state this because no one has more passion about the project you are working on than you.
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 think it all depends on the business model you establish. Some ventures really require a tremendous amount of working capital upfront. Others allow you to be agile and flexible with your cash flow. As I stated previously, understanding your financials are critical when building a business. You are then able to determine if you can go at it alone or you will need to solicit from the outside.
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?
I would say start with your brand story (identity). How critical are certain elements to the authenticity of your brand? You should identify your partners only after you have established an identity for your brand. Do not let the manufacturing facility dictate what your brand is or becomes. Once you have created and established the supply chain that fits for your business, created a selling story that you can stand behind, you can then source partners (retailer / distributor) that share the same passion for the category and brand that you are bringing into the market. This will not be easy for new to market brands and may take multiple efforts. Try not to get discouraged.
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.)
In no particular order:
- A trustworthy, hardworking team — Not just specific to food companies, individuals that are all on the same page, working towards the same goals, with a shared understanding that you will wear multiple hats while getting the company up and running are all super important.
- Capital — Creating a successful line will require capital. Understanding the amount of capital required, where it will come from and not diluting what you truly believe the line will require to be successful long term is important.
- Time — Success usually doesn’t happen overnight. Allotting a realistic timeline for your vision to develop is really important.
- Understanding of market landscape — Understanding the market landscape for the category you are competing in allows you to create tailored strategies and reduce ineffective spending.
- Effective Partners — Whether in manufacturing, R&D, packaging design, etc… an ineffective partner can derail your project quickly. An effective partner can help you fulfill your vision even faster than you anticipated.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
Just being true to the brand and to the vision, listening to consumers and understanding market dynamics, as well as trying not to compromise or dilute the end product when you are ready to scale up production are all equally important.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Continuing to stand behind initiatives and institutions that are contributing to causes that I deem to be important in improving society. I am a board member of the JDV Lifestyle Group organization that has several initiatives supporting children and education, a board member for the Rum and Rhythm committee that provide scholarships to underprivileged children from the Caribbean in Hospitality and donate to several causes supporting and nurturing the growth of young minds.
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.
As mentioned above, I truly believe that continuing to educate our youth and inspire them is the way we can continue to make the biggest impact. If you are not in a position where you can contribute financially your time in mentoring and providing insights on how to avoid hurdles that you may have encountered along the way and helping tutor them in areas, they may be deficient. Education should not be a privilege; it should be a requirement.
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.
Wow, there are so many individuals that have done great things that I would love to hear and see where their mindset was at the time, they were doing it. At this point and time, I would have to say Lebron James. From his ventures into the several different spaces outside of his so-called “comfort zone” to his continued efforts in Philanthropy, I am impressed and inspired by what he has done.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.