The Business Press: Homemade success

01:54 PM PDT on Wednesday, June 23, 2010

By CHRIS H. SIEROTY
Contributing Writer

Diana V. Powers, founder of a boutique salsa company which she describes as a healthier and gourmet alternative to the mass-produced bottled salsas, isn’t your typical entrepreneur.

Yes, like most entrepreneurs she works constantly, either overseeing the production of her Diana’s Sports Salsa, marketing her product or hosting tastings at various supermarkets. But the wife and mother of seven began producing her natural salsa in the kitchen of her Riverside home with the simple goal of supplementing the family’s income to help pay for their children’s athletic endeavors.

Now with most of her kids grown and on their own, Powers’ salsa is being produced on a larger scale and is available at several upscale markets in Orange County.

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Paul Alvarez / Contributing Photographer
Diana’s Sports Salsa also is sold online.

“As the years went by, we were finding it harder and harder to be involved in their sports because of the costs.” Powers said in an interview.

Her six sons all played baseball while her daughter, Lindsey, took up short track speed skating in 2002. At the time, the only place to get the training her daughter needed was in Long Beach. That began a six-year commute between Riverside and Long Beach and thousands of dollars in costs associated with her daughter’s pursuit of the sport.

“I had always made salsa and brought it to our kids’ games or gatherings at our church,” she said. “Then people asked me to make it for their gatherings. Then their friends wanted to order my salsa for parties and graduations. So I started doing it on a larger scale in my kitchen.”

The Southwestern style salsa features fresh, roasted chilies, and comes in three varieties — mild, hot and extra hot, she said. Powers explained that when she began selling her salsa, the most affordable way to package her product was by canning her own jars at home.

She would then sell them for between $3 and $7. Another unique aspect of her business is her label – Diana’s Sports Salsa – Great for Chips and Good Times – a red, yellow and black script design that includes pictures of red chilies and tomatoes that was originally produced by her son, Justin.

“I’ve since sent the label off to an artist to clean it up, but the original artwork was done by Justin,” she said. “I’ve never made much of a profit. Most of the investment I used to start my company came from my savings and whatever I sold.”

Powers attended a food show in San Diego to get her salsa in front of food critics and buyers for supermarkets.

“I was known as the salsa lady. I would pull a little red wagon behind me at my son’s games full of jars of my salsa,” she said. “When we went to a food expo in San Diego I wasn’t sure how we were going to be received. But by the end of the show, we were rated in the top 10 by critics.”

Powers said by early 2005 she was producing 60 quarts of salsa a month out of her kitchen. But in August 2005, everything was put on hold when her son, Samuel, broke his neck in a motorcycle accident and spent months recovering after being treated at Loma Linda University Medical Center.

“Once my son recovered and started walking again, I started my business again,” said Powers.

“I started making it for more and more people, until I found it difficult to keep up with all the requests,” she said. “So I decided to make a business out of it.”

Her business started to pick up last July when she was producing 70 to 100 quarts a month to meet the demand. With her business expanding, Powers formed MVP Food Inc. and moved production of Diana’s Sport Salsa from her modest kitchen to a facility in Newport Beach.

“When I saw the first 200 gallon batch produced at the cannery, I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘That’s mine,'” she said.

Today, with her children ranging in age from 13 to 30, Powers has expanded her business plan, and now Diana’s Sports Salsa can be found not only online ( www.dianassportssalsa.com), but among the national brands at Whole Foods, Promelis Westcliff Market in Newport Beach and Irvine Ranch Market.

It took three months to get her salsa on shelves at Whole Foods in Tustin. Powers said she approaches the grocery buyer at each individual supermarket and leaves them product.

“If they don’t like it, you’re out,” she said. “But, Sue (Matthis) at Whole Foods loved the product and began carrying it. It’s like going door-to-door, but I go store-to-store. I’m really hoping to get into Whole Foods in Laguna Beach and Long Beach.”

So far no Inland supermarkets carry her salsas. Powers said she hasn’t approached Stater Bros. Markets yet but instead is focusing on a “couple of small stores in Redlands.”

At $5.99 for a 16-ounce jar, she admits it’s not cheap but argued that for a “high-end gourmet” product the price was right. Powers pointed out that recently over a three-day period, 11 cases were sold during a tasting at Whole Foods. Online, Powers sells her salsa for $4.79 a jar.

Matthis, the grocery buyer for Whole Foods in Tustin, said the company allows its buyers to bring in local products.

“It’s been on the shelves for two months and has been selling,” Matthis said. “We decided to stock it after she dropped off samples. We really liked what we tasted.”

While Powers has been able to get her product into several stores, financially it’s still been a struggle. With a $1.25 profit from each jar sold, she expects to earn $60,000 this year. She expects 15 percent growth next year.

“My goal is to be in 12 Whole Foods stores by the end of 2010,” she said. “I’ve been in conversation with Costco. If I could close them by the end of the year, then you are talking about taking my business to a whole new level.”

Her plans for next year include producing tortilla chips and expanding into Arizona and the Pacific Northwest. Powers said she’s currently developing two new products and has talked with a chef about updating the salsa’s formula, since it hasn’t been updated in seven years.

She declined to discuss any new products but hinted that Diana’s Sports Salsa may produce a fresh salsa that’s sold in the deli section at area supermarkets. Powers said after using some of her family’s savings to start her business, she’s “preparing to look for financing” to expand and hire additional employees.

“I’m a mother of seven children,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for the most part on my own. My husband has been wonderful, but it’s time I expand and get additional help.”

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