When Bringing a Little taste of Home to Canada Turns into a Successful Business
When Dyana Biagi moved to Canada with her husband and their two children from Colombia in 1999, she made sure to bring along her recipe for Aji, a traditional spicy South American sauce that often contains tomatoes, cilantro, hot peppers, and onions. Dyana says she wanted to be able to “always enjoy a little taste of home.” Seven years later, that little taste of home would help launch what has become a successful small family business, Aji Gourmet Products.
“I started making Aji because it’s a fresh condiment true to where I was born,” says Dyana. After being asked to bring guacamole to a parent get-together “because we were Latin,” although she had never actually made guacamole before, Dyana added some Aji to it. Much to her surprise, it was a huge hit at the party. “I became the guacamole mom from there on!”
In 2006, Dyana finally decided it was time to try and turn her homemade Aji sauce into a business, selling her first jar to a local store in South Surrey, BC. “It became a dream of mine to share it with the world.” Today, with a team of five fulltime and one part-time employee, Aji Gourmet Products sells ten different Aji products to retailers across British Columbia and Alberta. This includes wholesale to grocery stores directly, as well as through a distributor, and also online via the company website. Prior to the recent pandemic, a large amount of their yearly sales would come from participating in numerous farmer’s markets and trade shows throughout the year.
When asked is there anything she wishes for that would help her business thrive, Dyana says, “We need to figure out a way to replace in-store demos that we can use to promote our products in-store. We also have some sales opportunities that would be great if they went through to sell out East and down South.”
Dyana says it’s very challenging to get the financing needed for a small company. “We have worked with Vancity which has been a great partner and been able to help us. We have looked everywhere to find out all of our options and were able to pick what was best for us.”
In addition to being able to research and choose the best financing options for their company, Dyana knows they also have a truly innovative product.
“Our product is innovative because we are the only chunky chili sauces out there, gluten, sugar, soy, and nut free. We are all-natural and still have a shelf-stable product,” says Dyana. “We have fought to keep out prices competitive, while keeping our products clean, using the best ingredients, healthy, without sacrificing quality.”
When asked what can other processors learn from her story of innovation, Dyana admits starting a business isn’t easy.
“I guess I never intentionally started a business, especially a line of work I had no idea about, I had never done before. But I very much believed in my sauces for I had never seen another sauce like mine. I still think of my sauces like Aji is a diamond in the rough, you really need to believe in your product, in what you are doing.”
Dyana adds that although hard work and persistence pay off, “It doesn’t get easier. You need to keep growth slow and steady to keep productions manageable.” One of the lessons she’s learned along the way is that “one never stops learning in this business, because as you grow, it’s somewhere on the learning curve.”
Dyana’s entire family has been very supportive of the business. She remembers those early days with nostalgia, when she’d buy those huge bags of onions that she and her dad would sit in the kitchen and peel together, the whole family would sit and put labels on bottles while watching TV, but says what made her the happiest was that after university both her daughter and son have continued to be very active in the business. Allison has a full-time job for the government on the Island but has continued taking on a very active role with social media and marketing in general. Allison also plays a key role in the important decisions the company must make. Nicholas has been a part of the business on a full-time basis since 2015. Both my children make me incredibly proud. I’m grateful every day!”