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From Beans to Basket: Fillo Finds Success Through Collaboration with Sofrito Product

In this guest contribution to the 1871 blog, Fillo’s co-founder Daniel Caballero talks about overcoming challenges while getting his product on the shelf and in front of consumers. Now on shelves across Chicago and online, Caballero shares his insight into what it takes to get from idea to sales to scale.

Fillo’s offers a line of heat and eat sofrito beans. Sofrito is a sautéed preparation of onions, bell peppers, garlic, herbs, sometimes tomato, and spices in olive oil. It is a very traditional base used in Latin American cooking that has origins in Spain and the Mediterranean. Sofrito beans are a common preparation in which the beans are cooked with the flavorful sofrito base. I launched this business with my brother, Antonio Caballero, and business partners Frederick Schlatter and Ferdinand Kuznik.

The initial product line consists of Cuban style black beans, Panamanian style garbanzo beans, and mayocoba beans with Mexican epazote and ancho chili. The product is packaged in microwaveable, 10 ounce pouches that heat in one minute in the microwave for a very nutritious lunch on the go or as part of a bigger meal. The product is now available at 53 Whole Foods Market stores throughout the Midwest region as well as on Amazon and a variety of Chicago specialty stores. If 1871 members are curious, you can find them as close as Artisan Cellar on the first floor of the Merchandise Mart. 

But even this modest success was full of challenges. Recently scaling up and successfully exiting a mid-sized food manufacturing business left us in a good position to evaluate co-manufacturers and their manufacturing capabilities. Nonetheless, it took many iterations and discussions to arrive at a formula and process that could scale well in a manufacturing plant; thereby positioning ourselves for large scale and long-term distribution. Co-manufacturers are understandably loathe to handle too many custom procedures, but we didn’t want to sacrifice the techniques necessary for achieving restaurant quality flavor. We also understood the packaging format was critical in determining attention and repeat buyers in stores with over 35,000 unique items. Choosing the right packaging format depended on the needs of our target customer along with considerations in ease of distribution, shelf life, and improved handling in the supply chain. While perfectly comfortable with the manufacturing, operations, R&D and pricing related decisions, we needed support in identifying the target customer and optimal packaging format.

Discovering the best approach to these questions was an iterative process and involved feedback from consumers, manufacturers, distributors, marketing experts, and retail store management. For us, the most sensible way of accessing these resources quickly was to join the Good Food Business Accelerator program hosted at 1871. We were able to present iterations of our product regularly for feedback. We discussed the packaging design and format each week with individuals who had expertise in different areas of the food business, from distribution experts to grocery buyers. This gave us a variety of viewpoints to consider as we fine-tuned product design and flavor profile. My partners as well as designers from Pigeon Studio in Bridgeport were present at the weekly meeting with our mentor, Gustavo Razzetti at Lapiz USA, to ensure that we understood the target customer clearly when conceiving of our brand and messaging.

Shortly after launch we had a meeting with representatives from Whole Foods Market who we met at the accelerator program. They gave us the opportunity to slot our product at 53 Whole Foods Market locations throughout the Midwest. Seeing the product on the shelf and witnessing shopper reactions during tastings was not only rewarding, but has motivated us in our R&D efforts. We are expanding our line and entering new product categories. We’re also focused on targeted marketing and promotions. How well we execute will determine future moves.  However we proceed though, there’s no doubt the network we gained from participating in The Good Food Accelerator will continue to aid in our growth.

The opinions expressed here by 1871 guest writers are their own, not those of 1871.  

Topics: Insights