Panama Hot Sauce Producer Spices up Canadian Market
Marianela Martinez de Alvarado realized a career change was in order after one of her clients failed to find Panamanian culinary gifts to take back home. As her Canadian counterpart expressed disappointment about the generic hot sauces lining the shelves of the local supermarket, the former international lawyer recognized a gap she wanted to fill.

Two years later, Alvarado is the proud owner of Secrets of Panama, a small business that produces hotCHOMBO. The hot sauce is 100 per cent natural and made from local ingredients like the famous Habanero pepper, the hottest chili pepper in the world. Rum is also added in homage to the region’s Caribbean influence.

“It’s the heaven combination,”

Alvarado says of her recipe, which was handed down from her grandmother.

Before long, Alvarado was looking to expand her company’s reach to foreign markets. The burgeoning entrepreneur joined eight other Panamanian small and medium enterprises at the annual Salon International de L’Alimentation (SIAL) Canada show, which was hosted in Toronto from April 30th to May 2nd, 2013.

TFO Canada was enlisted to develop a four-day Market Orientation Tour that provided opportunities to engage with potential buyers and to learn about the Canadian market. Activities included seminars on Canadian regulations, a tour of a Loblaws supermarket, and scheduled business meetings with Canadian buyers at the SIAL show.

Alvarado succeeded in finding an importer for her product after TFO Canada organized an additional interview outside of SIAL at the business of a small Canadian company that specializes in upscale gourmet products.

She says working with an agency that connected her company with an interested importer was crucial for landing a buyer.

“A fair without meetings is most difficult. It’s the business appointment that’s key and TFO Canada made that part happen.”

Secrets of Panama sent its first shipment of hotCHOMBO to Canada in January, and plans to send a second one in April. Right now, the product can be purchased at seven Canadian locations, including grocery stores and specialty shops.

Alvarado will attend the SIAL conference again this year in Montreal on April 2nd to 4th. Now that she has a Canadian importer, she is eager to focus more on promoting her product and connecting with buyers across the country.

“The world doesn’t end with your country. The world is open to your business, and you need to work hard to find a part of the world that loves your product,”

Alvarado says of what drives her to the Canadian market.