One of the toughest challenges a consumer product company faces is the battle for shelf space at a major retailer.
Competition for the right to merchandise a new product among the older, usually larger, more established companies is fierce. Space on the shelf is finite, and if a new player is awarded any of it, somebody else is going to have to be moved out.
The salsa business is particularly competitive, as dozens of companies vie for space alongside giant brands like Pace, Tostitos, Taco Bell, and Old El Paso.
But for Helen Lampkin, founder of Rogers-based company My Brother’s Salsa, winning over retailers, and ultimately, consumers, seems to come as easily as her effortless southern charm.
A family recipe
Lampkin’s first career was one spent in the home, as a mother taking care of her family and raising her children. As an avid cook and frequent entertainer, she developed quite a rolodex of recipe cards that she created or adapted from some of her family’s favorite dishes over the years.
One of those was a recipe originally conceived by her brother, John Hoover. As Lampkin tells it, Hoover gave her a jar of salsa that he created at a family gathering. She asked him for the recipe, and began making it every week, subtly tweaking it here and there to make it her own.
“When I’d make it, I’d say ‘Here, try this. It’s my brother’s salsa,'” she said. “And that’s how it got its name.”
It became such a staple at parties and get-togethers, that Lampkin’s family and friends began urging her to consider marketing and selling the recipe.
After years of encouragement, she decided to give it a shot.
Lampkin took the recipe to Steven Seideman, a food processing professor at the University of Arkansas to begin testing the salsa for shelf life, and for advice on how to begin manufacturing the recipe.
With that, Lampkin’s second career began as the president and CEO of her very own salsa company.
Becoming a business
Lampkin incorporated in 2003, created a logo based on one of her own original paintings, and set out to turn her brother’s salsa recipe into an actual company.
She found a small batch manufacturer in central Arkansas that could make 25 cases of salsa at a time, and started shopping the product around to regional retailers.
For the next six years, Lampkin worked as a one-woman operation handling everything from sales to delivery for her burgeoning brand. All the while, the number of retailers interested in carrying her salsa continued to grow.
In 2010, the company had reached a critical mass, and had become so much work that Lampkin decided it was either time to take the company to the next level, or close up shop.
Thankfully for fans of her salsa, she chose the former option.
Around that time, Lampkin got involved with Sam’s Club, taking her products along to their Showcase Events roadshows. Connections she made at those events led to a distribution deal with Walmart, and things just kind of exploded from there.
My Brother’s Salsa is now in about 2,100 stores around the country, from giant retailers like Walmart, Whole Foods, Fresh Market, and Natural Grocers, and to mom-and-pop shops like Richard’s Meat Market in Fayetteville.
To this day, though, Lampkin still remembers the exact day she sold her first jar of salsa to a greenhouse with a gift shop in Little Rock.
“It was Green Tree Nursery, and it was May 21, 2004,” she said without hesitation. “That was my first customer, and they’re still a customer today.”
All in the family
The trajectory of My Brother’s Salsa has been perpetually upward, but talking to Lampkin, one gets the feeling that even now there’s plenty of room to grow.
The company has expanded from just her brother’s original recipe to nine different flavors of salsa; including black bean and corn, fire roasted, house, and tomatillo, along with seasonal small batch salsas in cucumber tomato (mediterranean), Hatch green chile, peach tomatilla, and cranberry orange flavors. The company also recently began making their own line of whole grain organic tortilla chips.
Lampkin prides herself on quality, with simple recipes made with fresh, flavorful ingredients whenever possible.
“You won’t turn the label around and say ‘What is that,'” Lampkin said. “All of our ingredients will be recognizable.”
And though the product offerings have continued to grown, the recipes continue to be developed by Lampkin’s family.
“A lot of people will bring in a chef, and tell them, ‘Give me something with peach, or give me something with black beans,'” she said. “That’s not the way we’ve done it. We’ve created all our own recipes.”
Just as the name of the company suggests, family has been a huge component of the company from day one, and that is still the case today.
“My family has had to do all kinds of things for me over the years,” she said. “I couldn’t have done this without their help.”
Recently, instead of working on a volunteer basis (which is often the case in a family businesses), some of the family members have been added to the payroll in a more official capacity.
Lampkin’s son-in-law Blake Pointer, a marketer and former employer of Fayetteville-based agency Saatchi & Saatchi X, joined the company in 2011 as CEO. Last year, her daughter Ashley Pointer, who had been helping out part time for several years, came on full time as COO.
“This company is kind of like a vortex,” Ashley said. “It just kind of sucks in everybody close to it.”
After starting the company as a one-woman show, Lampkin currently employes five people at My Brother’s Salsa.
The added help has propelled the company exponentially in recent years, and Lampkin hopes it will help her continue to increase distribution to more stores in the coming years.
The company will also soon make the move from their current Rogers facility to a new office complex in Bentonville.
Lampkin said she is also working to rebrand her small-batch salsas under a new sub-brand called Helen’s Table.
Under the new brand, she’s developing a whole line of new products, from functional art, to decor, tables, chile roasters, and whatever else she can come up with.
One of her pet projects is a line of brooms that she makes by hand and sells in her limited spare time.
The brooms, which she has dubbed “No Ordinary Broom,” are emblazoned with a bible verse that appears to be her mantra. The message on each broom reads simply “Do all your work whole heartedly.”
First as a homemaker and now as creator of a successful company, Lampkin has done exactly that.