Cheese and bread. Few food combinations are more comforting or delicious. And if your tastebuds are hankering for something more than your standard grilled cheese sandwich, local foodpreneur Junea Rocha has just the snack for you.
After moving to the United States from her home country of Brazil, Junea often found herself missing her mother’s cheese bread, or pão de queijo, a comfort food she hadn’t been able to find in her new hometown of Portland. Finally, feeling homesick, she decided to get her mother’s recipe and make her own.
Now, four years later, cheerful yellow bags of Brazi Bites grace many grocery store freezer aisles, not only in Portland, but in over 500 locations in 15 states across the U.S.
Junea tells us more:
Opportunity that Brazi Bites capitalizes on: Brazilian cheese bread is naturally gluten-free, so I saw an opportunity in the market. It gives the gluten-free consumer the taste and texture that they’ve been missing out on. Also, it’s a convenient product for families on the go who want to feed their kids clean, all-natural, healthy snacks that they love.
Your competition: We have regional and local competitors, but no national competitors yet. We’re poised to be the national brand that creates and grows this category in the U.S. market.
Why you’re the right person for the job: I have an engineering degree, and for years I worked as a project manager for a large contractor in Portland. I am experienced in project management, which is all about setting goals, planning and executing. The technical industry-specific knowledge had to be learned, but there are many similarities in both roles that I was able to carry through.
Here’s Brazi Bites in five minutes. Junea presented at OEN’s Angel Oregon Spring 2014 Showcase.
Video produced by SpykerMedia.
Best thing about being an entrepreneur: Seeing the positive response from the product we’ve created from consumers and grocery buyers. Also, all the amazing people we’ve met in our journey. Whether they’re other entrepreneurs, fans, or partners – we’ve met a lot of great people along the way. It’s a great industry to be a part of.
The hardest thing about being an entrepreneur: The roller coaster ride, and the fact that you’re spread so thin 100 percent of the time. Learning to navigate that has been the most challenging part.
Your biggest success to date: Our popularity with gluten-free consumers. The response is overwhelming in gluten-free events; we always come out as a bestselling product. It helps get our products into people’s homes and then other family members enjoy them as well.
A failure you learned from: When we started the business, we invested a lot of money to build a mobile food truck. We thought that was a way to promote the brand in Portland and that turned out to be a financial mistake. We found that the best way to promote our products was in the stores as part of the retail experience, not roaming around in a food truck. We became much more careful and targeted when it came to our marketing efforts.
What keeps you up at night: I obsess about how to introduce Brazi Bites in the U.S. market. Since we’re creating a new food category, the biggest challenge is how to educate people about the product.
Your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur: Know your product better than anyone else. Understand how the consumer is buying it, understand how your business is structured, and where your margins are. You can’t have a company that grows beyond your local area without understanding those aspects of the business.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I would have loved to be a singer but I have zero talent! I’ve loved working ever since I joined the workforce as an intern in college. I get excited about working hard, making a difference in a company and taking charge of my own life, which is why being an entrepreneur has worked well for me.
Do you think Oregon is a good place to start a business? How has it helped you, and what challenges has it posed? There is an excellent support system from entrepreneurs – that part has been great and has helped us evolve from the ground up. We wouldn’t have gotten where we are today without that.
Raising money has been challenging. It seems to be easier in other parts of the country where the investor communities are more familiar with what it takes to grow a food company. We finally got traction and are about to close a fundraising round, but it’s been a lot of work.
What’s on the horizon: Our goal with Brazi Bites is to become the national manufacturer/supplier of Brazilian cheese bread and offer the best taste and highest quality on the market. We’re poised to be that brand, and we’re proud to be from here and working from Oregon.