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Great traditions are handed down from one generation to another. So it was fitting that Argia B. Collins, founder of a successful food company, passed his knowledge of food management down to his daughter, Allison Collins, when he retired. For 30 years, Argia B’s Food Products was known for its ribs and barbeque Mumbo Sauce. The younger Collins’ challenge was to make Mumbo Sauce a nationally known brand name and move it into larger grocery chains.
But she faced two major problems with her new company, Select Brands: How to turn a family recipe for barbeque sauce into more than a seasonal condiment, and how to compete with the major brands on the market without a large advertising budget? Collins decided to focus regionally. While the product was selling in the Midwest, she launched promotional campaigns (using local radio stations), couponing and in-store sampling to expand her customer base. Her promotional efforts were a success; she reaped $500,000 in sales this past year.
Although Mumbo Sauce has been on the shelves of Chatham Food, an independent grocery in Chicago, for 20 years, the store’s owner, Leonard Harris, applauds Collins’ more aggressive marketing. “She does a lot of promotions for a small African American company. She’ll have in-store sampling. And the sauce is a great seller.” Recently, Collins offered a weekend getaway trip to promote Mumbo Sauce.
The company has also started to reach out to regions with warmer climates, such as Atlanta. “We want to make the sauce less a cyclical product,” Collins explains, “and in certain areas of the country that’s possible.” When Collins goes into a food chain to pitch Mumbo Sauce she takes along a complete marketing package. “They want to see that you’ll be active in marketing the product, in getting customers to buy it.” In addition, she makes appearances at industry trade shows and various black expos, giving out small bottles of Mumbo Sauce as free samples.
This strategy landed Dominick’s Food Chain. “Ours really has to be a targeted effort,” says Collins. With Dominick’s, Collins’ in-store sampling did in fact show her customer base shopped there. Moreover, Collins’ giveaways of Mumbo Sauce have been a hit at such supermarkets as Kroger, Calhoun’s, A&P and Jewel Food Stores.
Thinking of ways to distribute Mumbo Sauce led Collins to launch Heritage Baskets, a separate company established in 1995 with her partner, Michele Hoskins. Hoskins also runs a family food business, Michele’s Honey Creme Syrups, based on a recipe from her great- grandmother. “There are so many black-owned companies that have started with a simple family recipe, and I thought this would be a great way of exposing them to customers they may never reach.” After sampling other African American products, Collins and Hoskins buy the items wholesale and resell them as part of the baskets.
The idea has worked for Ben McDow, owner of the Pride of Africa Coffee. His Macon, Georgia-based company touts some 101 flavors, all imported from the motherland. “Being in the basket was a good opportunity to