Empanada truck entrepreneurs tackle wholesaling head-on

| by Elliot Maras
Empanada truck entrepreneurs tackle wholesaling head-on

Cody and Kristen Fields have passed a USDA inspection for their commissary, and expect to double their wholesale empanada business this year. Photo courtesy of the Incubaker.

Editor's Note: This is part two in a two-part series about Cody and Kristen Fieldses' empanada food truck and wholesale business.

Cody and Kristen Fields are as passionate about their food truck as any food truck owner, but their truck, mmmpanadas, has also been the means to achieving a larger goal.

As noted in part one of this series, their purpose in launching their Austin, Texas-based truck was to help them establish a wholesale empanada business.

Ten years after launching their business, they have made significant progress.

The Fieldses have invested $70,000in the commissary over the past year.

Technically speaking, their business began on the wholesale side, as their first customer was a neighborhood bar. But when they noticed food trucks popping up in Austin, they saw it as a way to build awareness of empanadas.

So in 2008, they invested $35,000 in their first food truck.

While Cody ran the truck, Kristen knocked on restaurants' doors, managing to win a handful of restaurant accounts for their empanadas.

They did all their baking — for both their truck and their restaurant customers — in shared commercial ovens.

"We froze our freshly baked empanadas and heated them on our truck before serving," Cody said. "If we were delivering a standing order to a restaurant, then the restaurant heated them in their own ovens."

Long-term focus

In the early years, the food truck sales grew faster than the restaurant sales, as food trucks quickly became popular in Austin. But the Fieldses knew the wholesale market was potentially a much larger business, and they maintained their focus on their long-term goal.

One challenge was that small independent restaurants frequently go out of business, Kristen said. So they decided to focus on regional chains, which they viewed as more stable.

A big break came when they landed a regional Whole Foods Market account. Whole Foods Market initially turned them down, but when the buyer who rejected them left the company in 2012 to become an independent food broker, he became their advocate. The buyer-turned-broker told them he wanted to pitch their empanadas to other Whole Foods Market buyers.

"That's how we acquired our first Whole Foods accounts," Cody said. The Fieldses now sell to 15 Whole Foods Market stores in the North Atlantic region.

Investing for growth

Two-and-ahalf years ago, the Fieldses lined up angel investors to purchase a commissary, which they now call the Incubaker. Over the past year, they have invested $70,000 in the facility, hiring 16 full-time employees. They recently passed a USDA inspection, a step in achieving credibility with large retail customers.
The Fieldses provide point-of-sale displays for some
of their wholesale customers.
Cody oversees the Incubaker, which also co-packs for other brands, including a line of frozen eggrolls.
Kristen does local deliveries twice a week in an SUV. She and Cody use third-party shippers to deliver to Whole Foods Market distribution centers.

They expect to gain more Whole Foods Market business since they recently passed a USDA inspection, which enables them to sell their meat empanadas nationwide.

"The wholesale business will at least double this year just with the additional meat products to our existing customers," Cody said. Meanwhile, they are working to improve their branding and their packaging.

The Fieldses are hoping to acquire level 2 certification next year from The Safe Quality Food Institute, a certification that is recognized by retailers and foodservice providers worldwide. This certification could help them win more customers.

They will eventually be exhibiting at foodservice trade shows.

"There is nothing like it of our quality in the frozen aisle," Kristen said.

"Empanadas are actually trending now in the food space," Cody added. 

Food truck supports wholesale business

The food truck business, meanwhile, continues to grow and build market awareness for the wholesale business. 

Last year, after winning a bid to provide concessions to an Austin public pool that is open six days a week in the summer, the Fieldses purchased a 26-foot long trailer to serve the location. They outfitted the trailer with a convection oven, a freezer and a hot box. The trailer came with a grill and a fryer, so it offers some additional food besides empanadas such as hot dogs, corn dogs, churros and popsicles.

The food truck and the trailer combined do about $500,000 in annual sales. Cody did not wish to reveal sales numbers for the wholesale business.

Both the food truck and the trailer serve as marketing tools for the wholesale business. The couple's goal is to become a national empanada wholesaler.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Equipment & Supplies, Food & Beverage, Franchising & Growth, Independent Operators, Staffing & Training, Vehicles

Elliot Maras

Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.

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