Irlanda Lopez, owner and operator of Panelaza, said customers first come to her product because they hear it is an all-natural sugar substitute.
“There are no chemical additives, no preservatives — our product is completely natural,” she said. “People are looking for that.”
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Lopez said they stay for the taste.
Using just two tablespoons for one 8-ounce glass of water — hot or cold — Panelaza creates a great-tasting drink that rivals any brand of iced tea (or hot tea) on the market, she said.
The product, which comes in three flavors (natural, lemon or passion fruit), can be used in a variety of ways, including as sugar substitute in cooking.
However it is used, Lopez said the reaction always is the same.
“People can’t believe it has such great taste,” she said.
They are discovering what she has known about panela — an unrefined whole cane sugar, typically found in Central and Latin America — since she started the company in the Risaralda region of her native Colombia.
Last year, she and her family (her husband, two daughters and a son) brought the business to the U.S.
While attending the Latina Entrepreneurship Training Series sponsored by the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey to familiarize herself with the Garden State, the company opened an office in North Bergen and began using a warehouse in Elizabeth.
Then, it got to work.
“We are a family business,” she said. “All of us are doing everything we can.”
It’s working. The product is now in more than 50 grocery stores in northern New Jersey (Hudson, Passaic, Essex and Union counties) and New York City — including numerous ShopRites and Super Fresh locations. Lopez is hoping to have Panelaza in 30 more stores by the end of the year.
An e-commerce site is in the works, too, she said. As are plans to sell the product in Florida.
The next step in all of this is marketing and brand exposure. Thanks to her kids, a steady presence on Instagram already is going strong.
“We are looking for more ways to increase our visibility,” Lopez said.
That’s always the challenge.
The product, after one taste, sells itself.
Reach Panelaza at: kumela.com.co or call +573016284527.