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A Fresh Endeavor

With a passion for cooking and a popular salsa recipe, Joanne Shields quit her day job to focus on growing her salsa brand through local retailers

Joanne Shields was about seven years old when her mother began to teach her how to cook. “I was in the kitchen with my mom early on,” she said. “She was a very good cook and so was my aunt. Because of them I love to cook and bake.”

The basis for Shields’ commercial salsa recipe for her company, Simply Appetizers of Algonquin, was derived from one of her mother and aunt’s recipes. Throughout the years, the same salsa recipe repeatedly showed up at family events. “I had to slightly modify the recipe to perfect it,” she said.

Back then, she said, they made it fresh and it was always very good.  Now it is Shields’ passion and livelihood.

New Path

After years of working in the corporate world doing computerized drafting, Shields was compelled to take a new path.  “I read a motivational book on business start-ups and realized that I should follow my passion,” she said. “So I went with that.”

Starting up a new business is never easy. “I’ve learned a lot on my own and through conducting research,” she said. “In addition, experts at the Illinois Small Business Development Center at the Shah Center have helped me with many different business aspects.”

In January 2008, Shields began with the most cost-effective, start-up appetizer product — salsa. She worked on her recipe to get it into a shelf-stable format — which allows for a long shelf life. Had she taken the fresh salsa route, she would have had to go every two to three weeks into stores that carried her product to replenish stock. That was not in her marketing plan.

The first store that carried Simply Appetizers’ salsa was Island Foods in Island Lake. The owner took on 10 cases. Initially, Shields went into the grocery store every week to demonstrate and to gain exposure to her product.

A Growing Business
The business plan projects Simply Appetizers’ salsa to be in 50 stores by year-end.  To date Shields is slightly shy of that.  “I had some obstacles at the beginning of the year that I had to work through,” she said. “I am hoping and planning to reach my goal. It would be awesome. I am a determined person and I want to do this … my heart and soul are into it.”

Product development, sales and distribution are all handled by Shields herself. With that in mind, she may have to hire support people soon so she can branch out and do more in other areas. Growing the customer base has been an easy task with the support of business associates, friends and family. Especially when it comes to taste testing. Although her son is a picky eater, her daughter has helped to perfect the recipe.

“She was right by my side with all this,” Shields said. “I’ve also shared my salsa with my neighbors in Huntley.”

The proprietary recipe is produced at Dorina So Good Inc., Union.  “Tim Young, the president, is a very good guy to work with, she said. “Right now I have a contract with them to produce one batch at a time which yields about 70 cases.”

It appears that very soon, it may be more frequent since her business is growing quickly.

Hooked on Salsa
Local farmer’s markets are also a tremendous outlet for this flavorsome new salsa. “Once people taste it they really like it, and they’re hooked,” she said. “I tell them about the fresh ingredients, and then they’re hooked. I am different; my salsa is authentic and has no preservatives. Many salsas currently on the market in the shelf-stable category cannot claim that.”

Currently on the market there are mild, medium and hot flavors. Planned future flavors may include con queso, mango black bean and corn salsa. A Midwest girl, Shields was born and raised in Chicago and then moved north to the Arlington Heights/Buffalo Grove area before moving to McHenry County.

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