Student starts Peruvian spicy sauce business

Brett Addington (left) and Antoinette Muñoz (right) work with farmers in Peru on selecting the right peppers for the sauce and use their profits to give back to the community. (Photo courtesy of Tradición Peruana)

Greeted by Tradición Peruana’s bottle logo featuring a young smiling girl dressed in traditional Peruvian attire, consumers are guaranteed a “traditional Peruvian spicy pepper sauce” with flavors featuring common peppers used in the country — aji amarillo and rocoto — that can be eaten with almost anything, including rice, eggs and chips.

Created by Marshall School of Business alumna Antoinette Muñoz, Tradición Peruana is an online business that sells hot sauces made exclusively in her native country of Peru and takes inspiration from the spicy foods Muñoz encountered in her childhood there, including the aji pepper.

“In Peru, you are eating [aji] because it’s part of your food,” Muñoz said. “I can remember my grandpa saying, ‘Antoinette, please I need aji, so go to the garden, cut a piece of aji and bring it for the food.’”

It was through remembering moments like this and recognizing the role of Peruvian spices in her life and the lives of the people in her community, that Muñoz conceived the idea for Tradición Peruana. 

“I knew that I wanted to do something for my community and Peru is a country that has a lot of inequality,” Muñoz said. “When we’re talking about poverty in Peru, it’s not the same as to talk [about] poverty here. In Peru, you have children dying for food, children dying frozen outside because they don’t have anything.” 

Muñoz founded Tradición Peruana in January 2018 when she realized Peru’s corrupt government did not alleviate the issues plaguing the country, such as those of farmers who require financial support and water for their crops. By establishing this business, she would be able to use its profits to give back to those in her community in ways the government could not. 

In planning Tradición Peruana, Muñoz centered her products around two of Peru’s notable sauce flavors: aji and rocoto. The aji-flavored sauce is a traditional yellow pepper sauce that can be used as a dip. The rocoto sauce is a traditional vegan red pepper sauce. 

“100 percent grown, 100 percent produced and 100 bottled in Peru,” the company’s website reads.

Muñoz divides her business operation into two parts: traveling to Peru to work with farmers on selecting the right peppers for her hot sauces and from her San Clemente home to ensure that her sauces enter retail markets. 

Her husband and cofounder Brett Addington also handles the shipping operations of the business. Together, they also use social media platforms including Instagram, Facebook and their personal blog to market their products. 

Before launching her company, Muñoz decided to attend USC to learn business skills with help of University resources, including the faculty who guided her and provided advice that helped her launch her business. Her professors and mentors served as valuable experts who helped her develop a business plan and exposed her to new experiences by teaching her about running an agriculture business.

Abby Mandell, executive director of the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab and adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Marshall, taught Muñoz about human-centered design methodology, which focuses on addressing social issues through corporate social responsibility. As a student in Mandell’s “Social Innovation Design Lab” class, Muñoz was able to take part in a program that allows business students to visit Israel and Palestine to provide a chance to observe the multiple challenges the nations face, including racial inequality and unemployment. 

Through the visits, Mandell said Muñoz was able to learn from farmers in the region who used a certain irrigation system in their farming efforts to make better use of water. This irrigation system has also been emulated in various regions across the world with limited water resources. 

“[Muñoz] was particularly interested in the pioneering technologies around water conservation and drip irrigation that were patented in Israel, because she wanted to bring those ideas back to her venture in Peru,” Mandell said.

A portion of the company’s profits go toward helping farmers in Peru implement a drip irrigation system. With water a scarce and expensive commodity in Peru, the method creates a simple and cheap process for farmers to access water for their crops.  

“There’d be a great opportunity to use a percentage of the profits from this market to really help make an impact back in Peru toward small-scale Peruvian farmers,” Addington said.

Tradición Peruana initially faced challenges related to the export and import of the hot sauce bottles, including getting Food and Drug Administration approval. Addington said it took some time to learn the international trade process. 

“There are definitely different regulations that we had to learn about and getting FDA approval and other safety issues involved,” Addington said. “We actually learned that pretty quickly and made sure that we followed all the procedures necessary in Peru and in the United States as well … It was a challenge, but we figured it out.”

Tradición Peruana is currently only available through the company’s website. Muñoz and Addington plan to expand their business by going into different markets, such as retail stores and farmers markets, but opportunities to expand have been disrupted by the spread of the coronavirus.

“Online sales are going fine, but we had plans to get into some retail areas as well,” Addington said. “Unfortunately, right now that’s all on hold because the coronavirus [pandemic] has actually shut down a lot of business.”

Despite the shutdown of in-person businesses, consumers can still access the website to order. Muñoz plans to continue to promote Tradición Peruana after seeing a positive reception from her customer base. 

“I only need people [to] try [it] once, and I can tell you that two of [the] three that are trying our hot sauces, they love it,” Muñoz said. “They love it because the taste is different, and I am really happy about it.”