Jaime Santillán and Mario Torres prepared their thesis during the last year of university in Guayaquil-Ecuador and brainstorming on possible ideas identified a niche that linked Ecuadorian identity and innovation. Mario´s experience on tropical fruit and Jaime´s on mapping farming communities and their products were key to join forces. If we have the best natural ingredients and Ecuador has excellent commodities such as cocoa, bananas, coffee and we produce the best super foods such as quinoa, amaranth, Chocho (Lupino Andino), among others, why not mix them together?
This is how WIPALA HEALTHY SNACKS was born. Jaime Santillán, co-founder tells us how they have become a successful Eurolatina startup.
Why are you betting on the European market?

We were clear from the beginning that our product was going to be very innovative and destined for export. Ecuador is a small market and our project sells well in the USA and Europe. Our snacks are organic and natural based on our traditional products such as quinoa, cocoa, banana and have a strong social commitment and impact.
The arrival to the North American market was totally casual with a very funny story: an American visiting Ecuador buys our bars to make a gift to his friend who loves our product after tasting them. Through him, he puts us in touch with a distributor in Texas and we start selling in the USA!
The European customer greatly appreciates the traceability, certification and quality of our product. We bet on a model with a local partner, our distributors, who knows the market, the customers and we sell through them. Our presence at food fairs is also very important because thanks to them we have gained very important clients from important chains such as Whole Foods.
Betting on being global from the beginning has meant breaking down many barriers by uniting innovation and quality. We realized that many Ecuadorian products did not have the quality, the brand image, the right marketing to sell internationally and we bet on being different and breaking with those conditions. Quinoa, an Andean product, is the basis of our business and for us both the quality of the materials we work with and the branding and the commitment to a rich product, well presented and appetizing in the eyes of the consumer are essential to sell internationally.
In addition to the above, we have worked hard to achieve all the certifications that we believe are important to demonstrate our social commitment, our respect with the environment, etc.. We are certified by USDA Organic, Vegan, Kosher, produce gluten-free products, in allergens free facilities, and we will prepare to achieve HACP certification in the near future. We work with local producers, with a focus on total sustainability in our facilities because in addition to a rich and fair product we want our environmental impact to be as low as possible.

What are the main challenges faced by startups when they expand into Europe from Latin America?

Our growth has been very organic, making & creating a brand is complicated when you already reach a certain level if you don’t dedicate financial and personal resources to it. Our budget is limited and we have realized that trying to knock on doors in all countries is not possible, so we have made a basic but effective strategy. We work closely with our distributors, with those who bet and believe in us, and we make a strategy of engagement and sales and other factors very directed and coordinated with them.
The name of our startup Wipala has a lot of meaning for us because it refers to the union of the Andean people and in Quechua language it represents the standard of the Inca culture and its people. For us it is important to promote the rich culture that, we as Ecuadorians have, and to make it known internationally. In this brand strategy, differentiation is key for WIPALA because we sell our Andean identity together with quality. “I am Andean, and I bring the best of our ancestral land.”

Key learnings/recommendations for companies planning to grow internationally

I don’t think I discover anything new if I confess that being an entrepreneur is like getting on a roller coaster every day. There are fantastic days that you think you’re going to become the new Bill Gates and there are days that you want to throw everything out the window and become a regular employee with a monthly paycheck.
I always say that the most important thing for an entrepreneur is to be clear about the purpose of what you do, it is what saves you from failure. In my case that purpose is the greater good, we want people to return to its essence, to its root, that’s why Wipala places great emphasis on the identity that each one has.

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