Ten years ago, my brother and I had an idea to start a tortilla company that would change the way people ate tacos. We invented the 1 net carb 15 calorie delicious tortilla. We struggled for 10 years to get into consumers hands, but now we are no longer in obscurity and consumers know about us.
Today our company, Mr. Tortilla, makes the number-one selling tortilla on Amazon and our products are selling out worldwide. The surprising part is that the turning point for our company was in the height of the pandemic. So how did we do it?
To answer that question, I have to start from the beginning of our journey and explore the challenges of starting a business in the tortilla industry.
The first eight years
There will always be hurdles when starting a company and it can be years before you start to see any success. For us, our major challenges were funding during those first few years, getting our tortillas on the shelves, and keeping faith during the hard times.
My brother and I always wanted to go into business together, so we knew it would be a family business from the start. Our father worked in food manufacturing and helped us out immensely by teaching us the manufacturing process.
Our family invested in us both financially and emotionally to get us started. Having that solid support system around us really helped my brother and I get through those lows.
Funding is a common issue that new business owners run into. It can be exhausting when, year after year, you are struggling just to meet payroll and pay the bills. My brother and I experienced burnout several times in those first eight years and felt like giving up. But our faith and our family kept us going.
Rejection will also contribute to that burnout feeling, and we faced a lot of rejection in those early years. The tortilla industry is deceptive. When you walk into a store and see all the different products on the shelves you might think that there are thousands of businesses producing those products. But in reality much of the food you see in the grocery stores is actually produced by the same four companies, and they have a lot of control over who gets to be where on those shelves.
Something had to change. The grocery stores weren’t giving us a chance, so we turned to supplying restaurants and actually started to see some success. But right when we began to get some traction, the pandemic hit and our partner vendors closed their doors. Again, we had to pivot, but this time we struck gold.
Pivoting to e-commerce
When everything closed in 2020, consumers still needed to eat. So they flocked online to have their products delivered to their doors, especially their food. This created an opportune time to enter the e-commerce market, so we looked at the biggest platform in the game: Amazon.
Partnering with Amazon was a pivotal moment for Mr. Tortilla. Not only did we have direct access to customers all over the country, but Amazon took care of a lot of the distribution challenges we otherwise would’ve had to handle on our own. There is nobody that does e-commerce better than Amazon, especially with their Prime delivery service. There is massive value in being able to deliver a product to the customer within two days.
Within the first year, we more than doubled our sales and our workforce tripled in size to keep up with customer demand. We received over 10,000 positive reviews – another plus of using Amazon. Their customers heavily utilize the review feature of the platform, both to leave reviews and to read them. Once potential customers saw our reviews, they were persuaded to take a chance on our product.
Maintaining the momentum
Once we started to see success with Amazon, the next challenge was to keep the momentum going. We did this by publicly celebrating our wins and using cost-effective marketing tactics to highlight those wins.
Social media has been really powerful in spreading the word on our product. We knew that our low-carb tortillas would be a hit with the keto community, so we started focusing our social media to cater to a keto audience. Our TikTok account features recipes submitted by our customers, and some of our videos receive millions of views. These videos are all produced in-house and cost us virtually nothing to make.
Social media is a lot more cost-effective than creating a television commercial, especially when you’re still starting out. But there are some key tools of more traditional marketing that are essential for any business to have, such as a website and email-marketing.
What lies ahead
Even though we have had massive success over the last two years, we are still considered a small business. There is still a lot to be done for our business but we are finally at a point where we can look back and appreciate the challenges we faced in those first few years and hopefully, inspire some other entrepreneurs along the way.
Anthony Alcazar is the president and founder of Mr. Tortilla An innovator to his core, UCLA graduate Anthony Alcazar founded Mr. Tortilla with his brother Ronald, to revolutionize the Mexican food experience by creating a healthier tortilla for consumers.