Naples Daily News: Growing Gains

Posted on April 15, 2019

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Growing gains: Taste of Immokalee expands to 200 Publix stores

by Alexi Cardona (photo credit Morgan Hornsby)

This story originally published online at on April 12, 2019 and appeared in the print edition April 14, 2019.

Seeing the name of their hometown on bottles of sauces and salsas stocked in local grocery store shelves is a source of pride for the high school students who run Taste of Immokalee.

Talking about how they make and market the products, crunch the numbers, keep the books and sell their goods in the community makes them glow.

Now they have something new to be excited about.

Taste of Immokalee, a youth entrepreneurship program and benefit corporation that empowers high school students to learn leadership skills by running a business with the help of mentors, will expand its product sales to about 200 Publix stores in Florida by the end of May. The company’s products are currently sold at 17 Publix stores in Collier County and 15 stores in Lee County.

Guadalupe Huapilla-Perez, an Immokalee High School junior, said being part of Taste of Immokalee’s expansion makes the students feel proud of themselves and each other.

“(It feels like) I’m really in this program, in this business, I was a part of it, I helped them, and look how they’re expanding more and more,” she said.

Taste of Immokalee is still working out some of the logistics with Publix, including which stores will carry the company’s products. A full rollout is expected next month.

A humble start
Taste of Immokalee started in 2014 as a club at the high school with 14 students brainstorming ideas in a cramped cubicle. The students wanted to do something that would help improve their community. A mentoring organization in Immokalee, 1 by 1 Leadership Foundation, helped them get a jump start with a grant from State Farm.

Students talked about making products based on their mothers’ and grandmothers’ recipes, incorporating their distinct cultures and flavors.

One of their first tastes of success happened at the Naples Stone Crab Festival in 2014. When they realized people were enjoying and buying their products, they started thinking they should start a company.

“And there goes Taste of Immokalee,” said Marie Capita, the company’s executive director.

The club eventually became a company and an entrepreneurship program that offers paid internships. Twenty-three students are currently in the internship program. The number of students running the company’s day-to-day operations varies depending on school and extracurriculars.

The students run the company with the help of Capita and mentors who teach them different aspects of business — finance, marketing, human resources, entrepreneurship, sales and operations. The company has two full-time employees and five business mentors.

Taste of Immokalee sells two types of salsas, tomato jalapeno and mango pineapple; two barbecue sauces, chipotle and mandarin tangerine; and two hot sauces, serrano and habanero.

The salsas and sauces start with the students’ own recipes, which are perfected by a chef and by the packer in Winter Park, Florida, that is responsible for the final products. Some of the students have traveled to Winter Park to try the first batch of products and make sure they taste the way they want.

Working hard
Each student works in a different department at Taste of Immokalee.

Guadalupe works in sales. Marthe Auguste and Aida Garcia, both Immokalee High School juniors, work in human resources. Abigail Metayer, a junior and dual-enrollment student at Florida SouthWestern State College, works in finance and accounting.

Guadalupe started her work in sales and is there to stay. Marthe started in finance, then sales, then marketing before realizing HR was her thing. She realized she didn’t love numbers as much as she thought she did. Aida started in sales, which she didn’t particularly like, and moved to HR, too.

Guadalupe likes contacting potential clients, sharing Taste of Immokalee’s story and selling them on the company’s products. Marthe and Aida like the more administrative side of the business and have even learned how to complete certain tax forms. Abigail’s favorite part about her job is getting everyone paid. She uses QuickBooks, does reconciliation, makes budgets, creates invoices for customers and keeps track of expenses.

The teens said Taste of Immokalee gives them an opportunity to move around in the company and explore different sides of it.

“You end up finding out which part of business is for you,” Marthe said.

The company also has some interns do research and development to come up with new products and flavors.

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