The next chapter- the Hispanic specialty food business
As the consummate entrepreneur Maria Elena knew she was not ready to call it quits. True to entrepreneurship you never know where your next idea will come from. And so was the case with the creation of El Latino brand.
One Saturday while at the beauty parlor, Maria Elena struck up a conversation with a woman experienced in the Latino food business. The way Ibanez tells the story it was at that moment when she decided to launch Intermark Foods and also hired the woman to help her start the business.
Maria Elena is a big believer in learning as you go. While she had created and sold two successful companies utilizing her strong technical skills, she was confident she could be successful in a low-tech business.
She began her new entrepreneurial journey by purchasing several books on the Hispanic grocery business – two cases worth of books! Her living room was covered with stacks and stacks of books. She quickly read them cover-to-cover and frequented grocery stores. She paid particular attention to gaining an understanding of who were the leaders in the Hispanic food category and what, if any, gaps existed.
Maria Elena today with family
What she found among the leading Hispanic food companies was a gap in the dairy category. She found her niche; her goal was to compete on authenticity and quality, not on price.
Maria Elena launched a new company in 2002 called El Latino and started her product line with four cheeses. Ibanez worked with manufacturers in the Midwest to develop the cheeses, which were unique to Latin countries.
Today, the El Latino brand has expanded its product lines to include cheeses, meats, jams, breads, smoothies, frozen tropical fruit and vegetables. Their distribution network includes supermarket chains, major retailers, ethnic specialty stores, restaurants and cafes in over 600 locations in Florida
“Not having a business plan isn’t for everyone,” says Maria Elena, “I’ve always made adjustments along the way.” “Stay curious, and many times you have to make sense of nothing, but keep pushing to get what you want.”