Incredible journeys that shape the present & future of food & beverage industry

Written by Hema Reddy / May 4th, 2017

Robbie thought he was going to be a diplomat. While gaining international experience in Medellin, Colombia, he fell into a circle of entrepreneurs.

And everything changed. Robbie Thomas teamed up with another expat and launched Just Panela, a true raw cane sugar.

The company has grown fast. 18 months later, the organic sweetener is in many parts of the United States.

Robbie has helped Just Panela get slotted in accounts like Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, and Wegmans, as well as build out the food service/bulk side of the company’s business.

Robbie and I talk about the art of the launch with a product unknown to the North American consumer:

  • Advice to younger listeners who want to start a business with little to no money
  • Creating serendipity
  • What is panela?
  • How is panela different from Turbinado sugar?
  • The sales pitch for panela
  • What they would have done differently knowing what they know now
  • How to use food brokers
  • Strategic distribution partnerships
  • Retail versus food service
  • Conventional vs specialty grocers
  • Running a U.S. focused business from South America
  • Why finding a great fulfillment/warehouse partners is important
  • Colombian musings
  • Bonus: Robbie attempts to eloquently pronounce “terroir”