Editor’s Note: This is a transcription of Latinitas Magazine’s Unrepresented podcast segment“20 Questions With,” where we invite bold and creative individuals to discuss their experiences and background. Listen along by clicking the link!
Hi! And Welcome to Unrepresented: 20 Questions With.
In this episode, we’ll be collaborating with our Magazine podcast: 20 Questions With. Both Unrepresented and 20 Questions With explore themes such as equality and equity told through the lens of the individuals out in the front lines of change.
With that said, join Latinitas Contributor Raven Garza as she sits down and asks 20 Questions With Natalia Dalton Salazar.
Before we get started here’s what you should know about Natalia:
Natalia is a co-founder and the social media manager of Saucy Lips, her family’s Hispanic, female-founded business specializing in healthy, gourmet savory sauces and hot sauces. Natalia and her family are immigrants from Yucatan, Mexico, and when they moved to the US, her mother Gabriela started selling her homemade sauces at farmer’s markets to make money to help pay for Natalia and her brother’s college tuition. Over the last decade, to repay their mother for all her hard work, Natalia and her brother have dedicated themselves to growing the business. In the past two years, they’ve made huge leaps and strides and launched their hot sauces and marinades to Whole Foods, Kroger, Shoprite, and other smaller retailers nationwide.
As we come upon Hispanic Heritage Month 2021, Saucy Lips is incredibly excited to announce that this September they’ll be releasing a new line of authentic Mexican simmer sauces to Whole Foods nationwide to celebrate the incredible growth of their small but mighty family-run business. Their new flavors include Mole, Al Pastor, Green and Red Enchilada, and Fajita sauce.
With that, let’s hear what Natalia has to say:
RAVEN: Hey, everyone! Thanks for joining us on this episode of Unrepresented. I’m your host, Raven Garza, and we’re here today with our guest Natalia Dalton Salazar. Thank you for joining us. How are you doing today?
NATALIA: Alright, thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here. I’m excited to jump into the questions since we have 20 of those today.
RAVEN: First off, is it important for you that Saucy Lips be an example of Mexican culture?
NATALIA: So Saucy Lips, it’s our family brand. We currently make offers. And it is very important for me that we represent our culture because my family and I were immigrants from the Yucatán Peninsula. The sauces are made by my mother, Gabriella, and I feel like our brand represents Mexican culture in many ways. Our packaging, it’s very colorful; we like to use all these vibrant colors for our packaging. It also represents the family aspect of it: we are a family-operated company. So my brother, my dad, my mom, and myself, we all work for the company, and we have a very strong bond. And lastly, the flavors of our sauces, to me, they just taste like the meals that I used to have with my family back when we lived in Mexico.
RAVEN: That’s awesome. I just want to say personally, I love the vibrant colors. That was one of the first things that popped out to me. At the beginning, what was or where was the idea of making Saucy Lips, and how did you come to the name of it in the first place?
NATALIA: We actually went through a couple of names for our brand. So at the beginning, when we created Saucy Lips, we knew we wanted to use our mom’s creative recipes for the sauces. But we started out at a farmer’s market, so a lot of how we got to where we are today, it’s thanks to our customers. We were first calling our sauces Fire Live, and we would see people’s responses; they would say, “Oh, I don’t do spicy”. And we said, “But some of them are not spicy.” We have one that is cilantro, so it’s cilantro, garlic and bell pepper. It has those three and that one’s not spicy. So we just started playing different names. Actually, we were driving to a wine festival, it was a cross country Wine Festival, and my brother said, “Why don’t we call it Saucy Lips?”, and it just stuck to us. We thought, “Oh, this name is genius”, because they’re sauces and we already had the logo, our logo is these lips. So first it was these pepper lips and we were using them for everything but then as we switched to Saucy Lips, each of the bottles of our products got their own lips. So if it’s the tangy mango it has a mango logo and it’s made out of that. I feel like it really represents the name that goes with the logo.
RAVEN: That’s awesome. When you all started off, what was the main goal that you had in mind for the business? And do you think you’ve achieved it so far, or do you feel like you’re still working towards a certain goal?
NATALIA: At the beginning, we started at a farmer’s market and we just wanted to see how people reacted to our product. We tested a lot of farmers markets, and we started doing wine festivals. It was just getting our product out there to as many people as we could. And it was very successful. As we expanded, and started driving across the country and testing in different states, we saw the same positive responses. But we feel like we’re just getting started: now that we are in stores nationwide, we still think there’s so many more possibilities. There’s so many more stores that we still want to get our product into. So we are just getting started.
RAVEN: I saw the news that you all just went into Whole Foods, and that’s awesome. So congratulations on that. Is there a certain reasoning behind the choice to have a woman-led business? How much did you all think about that, or was it just natural?
NATALIA: Well, it happened organically. Of course, my mom is the creator, and the center for this brand, and I helped her out. Then there’s also my brother and my dad. But then as we started growing and going into stores, and we hired our team, it just happened organically that they happen to be women. We really like the nurturing part of being a woman: everybody in our team treats the products as if they’re their own. We’re very proud of our team and everybody in it, it’s great.
RAVEN: So I see there’s a big emphasis on your website on having things be very natural. What does that mean for your family and for the business that you want to keep things as healthy as possible?
NATALIA: In our company, we pride ourselves on creating products that do not contain gluten, there’s no soy, no dairy, and everything is vegan certified. We just like to have these products that everybody in your family can enjoy. So with these amazing sauces, on top of the fact that they taste delicious, everybody in your family is going to be able to enjoy them. I feel like nowadays, there’s so many dietary restrictions, that it is just better to create them this way, so that when a family member buys this product, he can share it with everybody on the table.
RAVEN: I really like that. Especially being part of a Mexican family, there’s always a lot of hesitancy in my family to accommodate you, not including gluten. They’re still a little bit confused about it. So I think it’s awesome to have a brand that talks openly about that. What impact has co-founding the Saucy Lips company had on your growth as a person so far?
NATALIA: I’ve grown so much from being part of Saucy Lips. Just the other day I was thinking about how I’m the one that did the pictures for our new product. Looking back at the food pictures I used to take three years ago, I’ve grown so much, I’ve learned so much. When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to wear all these different hats: I’ve learned how to go behind the scenes and create the blog for all the recipes, just take the pictures, do our social media… I feel that when you have your own business, there’s so many skills that you can learn.
RAVEN: Sounds like you tap into such a creative part too. I feel like not a lot of people associate starting a business with being very creative, but that’s cool. You do all the photo shoots and social media. It’s almost Hispanic Heritage Month. Could you talk a little about what that means for you, if you do something special for the holiday, about how sauce represents something?
NATALIA: Actually the launch of our New Mexican cooking sauces, it’s happening right when Hispanic Heritage Month starts. On the 15th, it will go live on our website, you’re going to be able to purchase them; on the 16th Whole Foods and all the distributors, they’re picking up the product. So it’ll start rolling into stores. That’s the company side, and then I’ve been contacting a lot of Latina-owned businesses throughout the month. Since my job for Saucy Lips is to do our social media throughout the month, I’m going to be highlighting other Latina businesses. That’s been my project, I’ve met like so many other cool Latina entrepreneurs, and we’ve been exchanging products. I just think that it’s important as a Latina to support your own community. And there’s so many ways that I could do it. So I’m very excited about that.
RAVEN: That’s awesome. I’ll be checking out your pages to see those businesses. I always like to see new businesses.
NATALIA: It’s great. I feel like a lot of them I found on TikTok. There’s been a lot with the Latina-owned hashtag and I have been finding so many beautiful and genius businesses.
RAVEN: That’s awesome. Maybe I should get on TikTock. I’ve still been hesitant to get on there.
NATALIA: It does take a lot of my time but I use me being on social media as an excuse. I have to. But yes, you need to be careful.
RAVEN: What do you think sets Saucy Lips apart from other similar companies?
NATALIA: There’s two parts, because I always see Saucy Lips’ core line, which is my mom’s cooking in a bottle, which is our glass bottles. And then there’s new stuff we’re coming up with. All divided into two parts. But our core line is really my mom’s cooking. There’s not going to be another identical sauce out there. When you go to the grocery store, you’re not going to run into two “zesty cilantros” and wonder which one you should pick. My mom’s cooking, the core line, is very unique. It’s very creative. We are from the Yucatán Peninsula. So we cook in the Yucatán Peninsula, we cook a lot with “naranja agria”, a lot of peppers, and a lot of seeds. And that is what the core line represents. Then there are our New Mexican cooking sauces. What sets them apart from a lot of the other Mexican cooking sauces here in the US is actually that ours are made by a Mexican family. That is definitely something that sets us apart.
RAVEN: All of this talk is making me hungry! I also really want to get these products for my grandma, because I feel like she would like to use them. What has been the greatest surprise so far since you started with the business?
NATALIA: Every day, there’s a new surprise when you are in this type of business. But if I have to pick our first big surprise, it was when my brother was invited to be on QVC. It was our first on-air appearance. He flew in, my mom had made all the products that we were going to sell, I think it was about two thousand boxes. He went on QVC, he’s on air, they had prepared him. And as the host is talking he’s saying, “There’s only 500 left, there’s only 200”. Then five minutes in on the show, the host says, “We sold out”. It was so shocking to see this is my mom’s product and you just went on air and you sold out. But it didn’t click in until the show ended and my brother turned around and asked, “Did we really sell out? Or is this at a pitch that they use so people buy more?” And then the host said, “No, you really sold out”. He just started crying. It was very emotional, just a surprise. You went on air, people heard this story, they loved the product, they loved what it represents, and you’re sold out. That was very cool. Our second big surprise is definitely Whole Foods. Again, it was my brother, he flew to Texas for the meeting to meet with the buyer. When you go to all these meetings and you present your product you never know. It could be that they want your product, they give you suggestions of what you would need to change, or tell you you’re in and they give you the regions. Usually stores work by regions. We went to the meeting, we had never been in stores, this is a farmer’s market business. At the meeting, the Whole Foods buyer tells my brother, “I love your product, I’m going to put you guys nationwide”. So we’re a farmer’s market family business, and all of a sudden the buyer for Whole Foods believes in us and says that our sauce can be everywhere. So we ended up getting into about 90% of the Whole Foods in the US. That was really a big surprise. Again, my brother called me right after the meeting, and we were just bawling on the phone and we couldn’t believe it.
RAVEN: That’s good! If you’re in Whole Foods, I feel like it’ll be a domino effect, and it’ll be so much easier to grow so quickly from now on.
NATALIA: Definitely, especially for us that have such a clean label product. With Whole Foods, if there’s a lot of ingredients that are not clean in your label, they won’t even give you a meeting. If other stores know that you’re involved with them, they already know that your product is going to be like a clean product. That’s definitely good.
RAVEN: That’s awesome, that’s great. Now that you have a certain amount of expertise in owning the business, what would you do differently if you could do it all over again?
NATALIA: When I think, what would I have done differently? The first thing that comes to my mind is my mom says, “El hubiera no existe”. I don’t know if you’ve heard this, it’s one of those mexican expressions that doesn’t really translate, but it means, “What could have been doesn’t exist”. So I would not do anything differently, because all the things that have been the hardest, or that I did the long way, those are the moments that made me who I am. It made me stronger, I learned from them the most. Now that I’m here, at a ten-year difference from where I started, I wouldn’t change anything because I’m in a good spot right now. Those hard moments that I had helped me to get where I am.
RAVEN: My grandma definitely would tell me that a lot when I would spend too much time thinking about things.
NATALIA: Overthinking, and I’m definitely an over-thinker. My brother always makes fun of me, he says, “Natalia, nobody is gonna ask what you are doing”, and my mom tells me to stop.
RAVEN: I’m trying to be more like that, not sticking in the past too much. Do you ever worry that your brand isn’t going to be seen as authentic enough among the Mexican or Mexican-American community?
NATALIA: That is very tricky. Because our core line, what we started with, it’s really my mom’s cooking. So what is authentic and original for me, it might not be for another person. But these are so creative and they are authentic to the region that we’re from. As I said before, we’re from the Yucatan Peninsula where we eat a lot of “naranja agria”, we eat a lot with a nacho, all these seeds are very sour, we’re famous for the habanero, which we do have the habanero carrot hot sauce, that one is really from we’re from. I feel like when people think of Mexican food, they don’t realize that there’s different regions and the cuisine varies so much. We are from Yucatán where we have a lot of Mayan food. I love cochinita. All these things cooked on banana leaves on the ground, it makes my mouth water just to be talking about this. Then there is our new line coming, which we did call Mexican cooking sauces, because they are more original to what Mexico is. Everybody in Mexico knows these, “enchiladas verdes”, “enchiladas rojas,” “salsa de mole”, “salsa pastor”: these are very classic to Mexico. We kept those. The flavor, it’s the original Mexican recipes. The only thing we did differently is that we did clean them out. But the taste is still there. I’m very excited to see how our Mexican culture reacts to seeing these ones in stores. These ones are actually Mexican, and they’re already recognized.
RAVEN: Having that representation and seeing recipes that you’re familiar with in stores will be a good experience. What does the general process look like when you all are thinking or creating a new line of flavors or new products?
NATALIA: We do a lot of cooking together. Now my parents and my brother and I, we all live in Miami, so we do a lot of cooking together. It’s funny, it always starts when we’re having a meal, and then one of us will say, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we make a sauce with this and that” and then we start talking about it. It just gets everybody’s creative juices flowing. We start recipe testing. After the recipe testing, we perfect the recipe, we have to make sure that it is shelf stable, all of our products are shelf stable. After that, we start thinking about packaging, which is where I come in, and I started designing the package with my brother. Then of course we have another team, they will do the final packaging, but we always start with our own packaging. Once we have the product, we start testing it at our farmer’s markets. The new sauces that are coming out in September to Whole Foods, our clients at our farmer’s markets have been enjoying them for about three months. We always test them there at the farmer’s markets, we make sure we get people’s opinions on them, how do they taste, should we change this and that. Once we know it’s a good product, we present it to stores. It is a long process, our new sauces that we’re making have been in the works for almost two years. That’s how long it takes.
RAVEN: Wow, yeah, it’s awesome that you’re in the farmer’s market environment because you’re just testing and having a very long testing period to really know how people feel about
NATALIA: Definitely. They’re amazing, especially here in Miami we have a lot of people from Mexico, but there’s also a lot of Colombians, we see a lot of people from Venezuela. It’s very exciting to get different cultures to try your product and let you know what they think about it. We’re having all these different palettes taste or stuff and making sure that everybody enjoys it. It’s very important to us.
RAVEN: That’s awesome. I also wanted to ask, What does shelf-stable mean? Because I wasn’t sure about that term.
NATALIA: Shelf stable, it means that it would stay good. If you make, for example, a tomatillo sauce and you make it at home, and you don’t test the acidity of the sauce, it will go bad. If I made my own sauce at home, I know that maybe it’s good for seven days, and then you have to toss it. So we just have to play with the recipe and make sure that it can be bottled and it’s not going to go bad. So shelf stability will mean that it goes on the shelf, because you can also create a lot of fresh sauces that would go in the refrigerated section.
RAVEN: Do you think you can talk a little more about your mom? What does she feel about the growth of Saucy Lips? How involved is she usually when you are all doing this? I’m imagining she cooks with you when you are together. What are her thoughts on the growth of the company so far?
NATALIA: So my mom and us, we see each other so much, because we still do the farmer’s market together. Usually the farmer’s markets are on the weekends. Throughout the week, she’s always making sauces, she’s always cooking. Right now, her title for the company is R&D . She’s the one in charge of making anything new that’s gonna come out from Saucy Lips creative. My mom, she’s an amazing cook. It’s crazy, how she thinks, “I’m going to grab this flavor and mix it with this and I’m gonna add this”, she’s really so creative, she makes all these sauces that I would never think of like. Now we joke about what we are creating, we joke about it but it’s serious. We’re really creating a legacy. I see my mom’s cooking on shelves at stores. When my son grows up, when his kids grow up, they’re going to be able to enjoy the sauces that are made by their Abuela. It’s going to be passed down from one generation to another. And it’s just exciting to see that she’s creating something that’s here to stay. So it’s very exciting for her and for me, and at the same time emotional.
RAVEN: Yeah, that’s awesome. And I like the idea of having more long lasting legacy brands that are Latino-owned. It feels good. So what type of struggles or hardships have you experienced so far being in the food industry, especially as a Latina? Have you ever experienced any discrimination, or have you felt imposter syndrome at those big meetings? What have your experiences been?
NATALIA: The food industry is really competitive, and it’s a really hard industry to be in. But nowadays, the industry is changing. There’s really so much diversity. The buyers, they’re so excited to include all these different cultures. I feel like we’re getting to a really good place right now with opportunity. For any Latina out there that thinks the shelf space is too limited, if you really work hard, and you stick to your niche, there’s a possibility. It is hard, we’ve had our struggles, as every brand has, but we just keep pushing.You have to find the right place where you fit.
RAVEN: In relation to that: how do you handle the stress or the different pressures of owning your own business?
NATALIA: There is definitely a lot of stress when you own your own business, especially because, as I said before, when you’re an entrepreneur, you wear all these different hats. So from the moment I wake up, there are a million things that just pop into my brain that I have to get done. For me, what works is to-do lists, because if not, I just jump from one project to another and get nothing done. Also, I have a four-year-old son, so it’s very hard for me. I’ve really tried to schedule my big projects, and get them done while he’s at school. We all know that everyone’s children were homeschooled for the past year. As a stressed person, I am not the best person to ask for advice, because it’s been stressful, but the lists definitely help. And something else that helps me is to have my family going through the same. I know I can call my brother anytime, or my dad or my mom. And since we are all in this company working together and growing together, we’re all going through the same thing. It’s definitely reassuring to know that I can call them and I can vent and we can work together to find a solution.
RAVEN: I also want to say I’m a big fan of writing lists and scratching out what I’ve done. I know you just said that you’re very stressed and not an expert at advice. But do you have any words for young Latinas or young women of color who want to start their own business one day?
NATALIA: Definitely: if you have a great idea, and there’s something you’re passionate about, I recommend 100% that you try to turn it into a business. There is so much information out there. There are so many resources, I feel like nowadays, it’s a great opportunity for women, for Latinas to start their own business. So if you have an idea that you want to bring to the world, do it.
RAVEN: Do you have any ideas on how you think our community and our society can be better at helping Latinas and women of color be more confident as leaders?
NATALIA: I feel like platforms like this one are great resources just to be in touch with your community, and together we can rise. I said before, now that I am in contact with other Latina entrepreneurs, we can help each other in so many different ways, we can give each other contacts from buyers and stores that help with each other’s pitches. Saucy Lips has grown so much in recent years from our social media, and using that platform to highlight the other businesses, those are great ways that I as a person can help. Also as a community, I feel like we can all help each other.
RAVEN: I was also going to ask if you have any specific, like support groups that you would recommend young women joining.
NATALIA: So I find my groups on LinkedIn. Even if you’re just getting started, just make yourself a profile. You can either navigate from the hashtags, I always look for woman-owned, Latina-owned, Hispanic-owned businesses. Just start to get out there and just connect with other entrepreneurs. On LinkedIn, there are also Latina professionals. Join all these groups, most of them are free. I also have another one, it’s called Mujeristas. So just join all these different groups, and just introduce yourself, we all start from somewhere. Even if you just have an idea, maybe go there and share your idea and get some insight from other people that have been in the business for years. For example, if you want to make a sauce, you can always reach out to me and I’ll be happy to give you some pointers and tell you maybe something that’s right, that I know doesn’t work or something that I did differently that made it work. So definitely just connecting with other people.
RAVEN: So a little off the topic of the food industry. What’s your favorite song or musician right now?
NATALIA: It’s funny, because up to a week ago, I used to play Selena Quintanilla for a lot of my cooking videos . It’s a classic that I do not get bored of. I start cleaning my house and I ask Alexa to play songs by Selena and she already knows that I mean Quintanilla, and not Selena Gomez. I love her. But recently, I’ve been listening a lot to La Oreja de Van Gogh. I don’t know if you know them, but they’re a band from Spain. When I lived in Mexico, these were songs that my mom would play over and over again while she was driving me to school, and I would say “Oh, mamá, these are so boring, you’re so old”. And now that I listen to them, I think, “Wow, these songs are beautiful”. It’s funny, but recently La Oreja de Van Gogh is on repeat on my playlist.
RAVEN: Aside from your work with Saucy Lips, I know you mentioned that you like to reach out to different entrepreneurs. Are you involved in any organization or separate projects or volunteer programs?
NATALIA: In June, my brother and I, we started at Taco Pop-Up. So at this type of pop up, we actually use our new Mexican sauces. We use al pastor, the enchilada, and then we use our fajita sauce, and we make tacos. It’s still in the testing process. We did a summer camp. My mom and I went to a summer camp and we just gave kids a lesson on how to make tacos. So that was very exciting. And it is something that we want to grow in our community, we want to start volunteering these taco experiences. There’s so many, there’s a place here called Lotus House, it’s a place where moms that are homeless can bring their children in, and they give them housing for a little bit until they are able to get their stuff together and apply for a job. I would love to just go and do Taco Tuesdays for them. We are still getting our concept of how to make the tacos and get it all together. But once it is running smoothly, we definitely want to start providing this experience to our community.
RAVEN: Last question: what do you personally hope to achieve in the future for yourself, and for Saucy Lips too?
NATALIA: I definitely want the recognition of Saucy Lips in the food industry. For people immediately knowing, “Oh, is it that sauce brand?” But it takes a lot to get out there. I think we’re definitely doing a good job. Something I also want people to know is that Saucy Lips, it’s a brand owned by a Hispanic family. Recently to our core line, we added the little logo of the eagle to our products. So when you pick it up, you know, if you read our story and you see the logo, it says born in Mexico: because we really want people to know that’s where we come from. Definitely, for Saucy Lips, I want to see it grow. I think eventually it would be really cool to have my sauces being sold in Mexico. It is not just for the US, we want to see this brand grow and reach other countries.
RAVEN: Well, that’s all the questions that we had today. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us.
NATALIA: Thank you so much for having me. This was super exciting. And if there’s anybody that needs some advice, they can always reach out. If you go to the Saucy Lips Instagram, I am the one that gets all the DMS on my phone. So anybody, if you want to ask me a question, you could just reach out through there and I’ll be the one answering. It’s not a bot, it’s not a person we hired, it’s just me. Definitely reach out with any questions or advice. If you see our products at stores, we would really appreciate your support. So thank you so much.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in media, make sure to visit us at latinitasmagazine.org for more information. Thank you guys so much for tuning into this episode of underrepresented. See you next time!