$175K/Month – Bringing Colombian Organic and Unrefined Cane Sugar to the Western Market – Scott Unkefer of Just Panela

INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 49:14)


Sponsors & Partners

Udemy Horizontal Logo New customer offer! Top courses from $12.99 when you first visit Udemy


Scott Unkefer, founder of Just Panela, shares the story of living in Colombia and discovering Panela Sugar in coffee shops and the health benefits compared to refined sugar widely used in the West. Scott shares his journey of bringing the product to the western market, challenges in supply chain, educating the consumer of the benefits, price point, and success on Amazon.

Episode Summary

Scott Unkefer, the founder of Just Panela, Scott Unkefer, shares his story of discovering and importing the unique, handmade, unrefined sugar from Colombia called Panela into the Western market. Unkefer explains that Panela, which is similar to jaggery or G in South Asia, has natural characteristics retaining from its production process and ideal climate in Colombia, making it a healthier alternative to artificial refined sugars. He discusses the challenges of pricing, marketing, and logistics in bringing this product to consumers, particularly in the US market, sharing his experiences with importing, attending food shows, and dealing with retailers and logistics companies. Unkefer also touches on his entrepreneurial spirit, business growth, and marketing challenges, while emphasizing the importance of staying authentic and focusing on long-term growth. He recommends the book “Cliff Bars: Build a Sustainable Business” and mentions Stoic philosophy for personal and business success.

  • 00:00:00 In this section of the Treptalks YouTube video interview, the founder of Just Panela, Scott Unkefer, discusses his unique product, Panela, which is an unrefined, non-centrifugal refined form of cane sugar commonly known as jaggery or G in South Asia. Unkefer explains that the difference between Panela and refined sugars in the Western culture lies in the production process, as Panela is handmade and unrefined, retaining the natural characteristics of sugarcane. Additionally, the ideal climate requirements, specifically in Colombia, contribute to the product’s unique crystallization process. Panela is a natural, delicious alternative to artificial refined sugars, and Unkefer emphasizes the importance of letting people taste the product to fully understand its benefits.
  • 00:05:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Scott Unkefer,” the speaker describes his discovery of a product called Panela, an unprocessed form of sugar, while living in Colombia. He explains how this moment was a revelation for him as he realized the misinformation surrounding different types of sugar and the health issues associated with highly refined sugars. The speaker shares that he had been living in South America for 20 years and was inspired by this discovery to start a business, focusing on importing and marketing this product in the Western world, particularly the US market. The problem he faced was less about creating the product itself, but more about finding a solution to bring it from Colombia to the US, educate consumers about its benefits, and build awareness around its use as a healthier alternative to refined sugars.
  • 00:10:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Scott Unkefer,” the entrepreneur shares his experience of bringing a new product, individually serving size sachets of sugar, to market. He mentions that he did not conduct extensive market research or testing before launching the product. Instead, he focused on getting the product into coffee shops and retailers, winning awards in coffee and fancy food competitions, which in turn helped him gain distribution in major retail chains like Whole Foods and Safeway. While he did experience some luck in his journey, he also acknowledges that he could have considered seeking venture capital earlier on in order to expand his resources and reach a wider audience more effectively, despite the commodity nature of the sugar market and relatively low margins.
  • 00:15:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Scott Unkefer,” the speaker discusses the target market and challenges of pricing for a healthier unprocessed sugar alternative. He acknowledges that the price point is higher than processed sugar, but emphasizes the health benefits that come with the product. The speaker mentions that he could have charged more if he had effectively marketed and educated consumers about the benefits. The target market consists of health-focused individuals with the means to purchase the product, as well as cultural groups that prefer the product’s taste and purity. The business runs from overseas and the speaker admits that he needs to spend more time in North America to better position the product in the market. He reflects on the importance of attending food shows and being physically present to understand where the product fits.
  • 00:20:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Scott Unkefer,” the speaker discusses the challenges of his food company, Subspace, in the food industry, particularly regarding exporting products to the United States and dealing with retailers. He mentions that his company, unlike many others, both manufactures and packages its own products, which sets them apart in the industry. He also expresses his preference for online sales platforms like Amazon over traditional brick-and-mortar stores due to the economies of scale and ease of distribution. The speaker explains that online sales, where shelf size doesn’t matter, allow them to sell larger quantities of their products, despite their size being a hindrance in physical stores. He also talks about the difficulty of dealing with the noise and demands of brick-and-mortar retailers in contrast to the more straightforward online sales process. The speaker is asked to elaborate on his supply chain and logistics processes in the US, and he mentions that navigating the larger businesses in the US food industry is a significant challenge for his small, multi-national company.
  • 00:25:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Scott Unkefer,” the speaker discusses the challenges of being a small business owner in the food industry, specifically in the US, where massive distributors and chains dominate the market. He explains that working with similarly-sized businesses is more effective as it avoids competition from larger entities. The speaker, Scott Unkefer, also talks about his experiences in running his business for over eight years, sharing early successes like winning awards at Expos and expanding to Canada. Unkefer acknowledges that not being in the US and lacking substantial funding have hindered his growth. The majority of his products are purchased from factories in Colombia and only require packaging, as the packaging industry in such countries is underdeveloped.
  • 00:30:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Scott Unkefer,” the speaker discusses his involvement in a business importing a traditional product from Colombia to interface with Western consumers, specifically in North America. The speaker notes that the product’s packaging and commercialization have become more common and seeks to address health issues. He mentions a team consisting of full-time employees, accountants, and logistics personnel in both Colombia and the United States-Canada. The speaker also shares a humorous anecdote about overcoming initial skepticism from logistics companies regarding the nature of their business. The speaker seems content with the business venture and sees future possibilities in addressing health concerns.
  • 00:35:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Scott Unkefer”, the speaker expresses his enthusiasm for being a small business owner and the marketing challenges he faces in expanding his business. He also discusses the fulfillment of employing women with children, enabling them to break through the glass ceiling. However, he shares a major mistake that occurred in his business: shipping 35,000 bags with the wrong barcode, which was a significant issue due to strict labeling regulations in Canada and the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the supply chain. This experience underscores the importance of labeling accuracy in the food industry and the potential consequences of such an error.
  • 00:40:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Scott Unkefer,” the speaker discusses a few topics related to entrepreneurship and businesses. He recommends the book “Cliff Bars: Build a Sustainable Business with the Power of Mission, Vision, and Values” and emphasizes the importance of giving away products for free to gain initial traction and velocity. He also talks about an innovative product, DataRobot, which helps predict future inventory needs through artificial intelligence. The speaker uses Google Sheets to run his business and recommends it as a productivity tool. Lastly, he admires Canyon Bicycles for their direct model and cost-effectiveness, inspiring entrepreneurs and businesses in the e-commerce retail and tech landscape.
  • 00:45:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Scott Unkefer,” the speaker identifies himself as a novice or part-time Stoic, inspired by the philosophies of Marcus Aurelius and Seneca. He emphasizes the importance of logic and adhering to Stoic belief sets in personal and business life. Regarding business advice, he recommends working for someone, rejecting the idea of becoming a “unicorn” through venture capital, and instead focusing on long-term growth. He also emphasizes the potential for success in selling regular products and warns against the stresses and potential failures of raising venture capital. The speaker’s website is jpillan.com and he can be contacted at cjp@jpillan.com.

People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode

Book: Raising the Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business: The Story of Clif Bar Inc. by Gary Erickson

What You’ll Learn

Interview with Scott Unkefer of JustPanela

[00:00:00] Introduction
[00:00:23] Guest Introduction: Scott Unkefer and JustPanela
[00:00:46] Welcome and Interview Overview
[00:01:20] Introduction to JustPanela’s Product
[00:03:00] Unique Qualities of Panela
[00:05:00] Discovering Panela in Columbia
[00:07:00] Scott’s Journey and Motivation
[00:09:00] Challenges and Approach to Market
[00:11:00] Winning Best New Product and Entering Retail
[00:13:00] Venture Funding Considerations in the Food Market
[00:14:46] Challenges of Mass Adoption
[00:15:19] Target Market and Price Point
[00:16:26] Health Benefits and Market Demographics
[00:18:22] Running the Business from Overseas
[00:19:31] Importance of Geographical Presence
[00:20:52] Online Presence and Amazon Strategy
[00:22:13] Supply Chain Challenges in the U.S.
[00:23:55] Direct-to-Consumer vs. Retail
[00:24:17] Supply Chain and Warehousing in the U.S.
[00:26:37] Successes and Marketing Campaigns
[00:28:25] Future Marketing Plans and Canada Expansion
[00:29:13] Packaging Challenges in Colombia
[00:35:07] Enjoying Small Business Ownership
[00:37:31] Mistake: Wrong Barcode on 35,000 Bags
[00:38:00] Supply Chain Challenges During COVID
[00:40:36] Book Recommendation: Clif Bar Business Book
[00:41:42] Exciting Product/Idea: Data Robot for AI and Predictive Forecasting
[00:42:37] Data Robot and E-commerce Platforms
[00:43:24] Productivity Tool: Google Sheets
[00:44:23] Successful E-commerce Business: Canyon Bicycles
[00:45:22] Inspirational Figure: Stoic Philosophers like Marcus Aurelius
[00:46:33] Best Business Advice: “Get rich slowly” and Avoid Chasing Unicorns
[00:48:43] Conclusion and Appreciation
[00:48:50] Contact Information: Website – JustPanela.com, Email – Scott@JustPanela.com

Rapid Fire

In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.

Scott Unkefer of JustPanela

  1. Book recommendation that you would make to entrepreneurs or business professionals (Response: Raising the Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business: The Story of Clif Bar Inc. by Gary Erickson)
  2. An innovative product or idea in the current e-commerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response: DataRobot AI Platform)
  3. A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend/Productivity Tip. (Response: Google Sheets)
  4. A startup or business (in ecommerce, retail, or tech) that you think is currently doing great things. (Response: Canyon Bicycles)
  5. A peer entrepreneur or businessperson whom you look up to or someone who inspires you (Response: I find inspiration in considering myself a part-time stoic, exploring the teachings of stoicism and integrating its principles into my life)
  6. One networking tip or building and sustaining valuable professional relationships.
  7. Best business advice you ever received (Response: I’ve learned, especially in my industry, is to focus on getting rich slowly, discard the notion of being a unicorn, and avoid seeing raising venture money as the end game; instead, embrace the journey, work diligently, and build success over time)

Interview Transcript

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Hey there entrepreneurs. My name is Sushant and welcome to TrepTalks. This is a show where I interview successful e-commerce entrepreneurs, business executives and thought leaders and ask them questions about their business story and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their businesses.

And today I’m really excited to welcome Scott Unkefer to the show. Scott is the founder of JustPanela. JustPanela sells a unique unrefined form of cane sugar, otherwise known as panela. And today I’m going to ask, um, uh, Scott a few questions about his entrepreneurial journey and some of the strategies and tactics that he has used to start to grow his business.

So Scott, thank you so much for joining me today at TrepTalks. We really appreciate your time.

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Thank you Sushant for your time. I, I appreciate, uh, uh, uh, uh, the interest

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: for sure. Um, so, uh, maybe we can start off with [00:01:00] the product itself. You know, it’s, um, uh, seems like, uh, um, some sort of a sugar cane sugar. Um, is it different from regular sugar, sugar cane sugar?

Is it like some sort of a unique thing to Colombia? Can you talk a little bit about your product and, and then we’ll get into your entrepreneur story?

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Sure. Uh, you know, I, it, it’s. Pinella is very similar to JY or Ger from South Asia. Uh, and, and, and there are names for it in other, various other parts of the worlds and, and cultures.

Um, the I for what it is, is truly unprocessed, unrefined, uh, uh, uh, uh, su sugarcane. So it is, it is not industrial refined. It is not centrifugal, refined. Um, all of the sugars in Western culture. Are are are refined and and and the differences between one and another are very minimal, uh, from white white refined to [00:02:00] turbinado to even brown sugar.

They’re all centrifugal refined, which is why they’re hard. And there are rock and there are crystal. Um, that was really the end game was to make it into a crystal so that. Frankly, the thousands of years ago, up until hundreds of years ago, you could transport it from India largely, uh, to the Western world.

Um, because as that hard rock crystal form, it, it was durable against the elements, the elements being humidity and everything else that happens in, in, in the atmosphere and on, on sea and land. Um, as such, it was. It also makes it really easy to package. It’s, it’s, it’s good for machinery, it’s terrible for human beings.

Um, it, it, so, so this, this is unrefined, non centrifugal refined sugar that the, the, the, the harmonized tariff code is literally non centrifugal refined. Um, and so [00:03:00] yeah, this is, this is, this is unrefined, uh, uh, handmade sugar, if you will. And so, as such. Really, the difference is it retains the characters, uh, the character of sugarcane grass.

Sugarcane is a grass. It’s an equatorial grass. It comes from the equator and ideally within three degrees of the equator. And there are other climate requirements and nice to haves for the sugarcane grass. And Columbia happens to be Columbia. As the best that I’ve found in the world when the, when it, where, when it comes to heat and temperature differential from night and daytime and how that allows the crystallization of the sugarcane grass to occur.

Uh, and the, and the, the, the volcanic soil and the temp and the temperature and the, and the sun it gets and the rain it gets and the water it gets and the movement of that water in this very, in this three mountain range country of Columbia that has three mountains. So it’s hard to get to. [00:04:00] It’s it’s it’s hard to grow your typical views of a very flat field full of cane that looks like carpet and then these big industrial machines doing cultivation and whatnot.

That works great for again for machinery. It makes a terrible product for human beings. Um, so that’s That’s kind of the, the, the, the nutshell when people ask what the, what is the difference? I really try and get the product into people’s mouths because they will, they, they it’s, it’s, it’s very much a, it’s a natural product.

It’s not an artificial product. And that’s where, that’s where the wow comes from. We have a huge. Sushant, I’m sure I’m not, uh, uh, stretching the imagination if I imagine you’re, you’re from South Asia. Yes,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: yes. And I’m, I’m definitely, you know, I’m, I’ve, uh, um, you know, I’ve used Jackery, uh, I’ve used sugarcane, you know, I’ve had sugarcane sugar also, you know, uh, of course, the sugar that comes [00:05:00] out of it also.

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Yeah. So that’s, that was kind of the wow moment for me as I was, I moved to Columbia from, from, from. Argentina and I would go to the coffee shop and I would find this stuff in the single serves at the coffee shops at the cafes. And I finally asked, what is this stuff? And they told me it’s sugar. And I was like, okay, and I opened it and tried it.

And I, and that was my wow moment of, well, good. This is what I wanted all along. That’s That I I wrote that too. That’s I I read that in a very good marketing book I think it’s called difference or uh, uh, uh, it’s a it’s a somewhat well known marketing book That that when you go in in in entrepreneurialism don’t Look for a void in the market and then fill that niche or void.

Look for something that when the market experiences it, it says to itself, well, this is what I wanted all along. And that’s what this unprocessed form of sugar is. We don’t [00:06:00] people there’s, there’s so much misinformation between raw sugar and sugar and the raw, which is not raw at all. It’s absolutely as refined as white refined sugar, and then these other words that have been misappropriated, particularly in America, uh, which we allow misappropriation to occur in, whereas Canada, where you are, you guys are far stricter with the usage and terminology, but America is what it is, and we just sort of misinformed the world on sugar, you You combine that with Western culture that, that, that, that bastardized sugar into a raw, a highly refined form, uh, so that it was transportable.

And you’ve got what the American market largely, and, and, and can the Canadian and the Western market is today, which is this horrible, all these horrible refined sugars. Whereas most people, when they try jaggery or or, or Chancaca or Piloncillo in Mexico. Or, [00:07:00] uh, Rapadura or Raspadura in Brazil and Costa Rica or Panela is they say that they, they, they realize, well, this is what I wanted all along.


Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, I mean, I’m, I’m curious that you, you seem to be from us, but you’re obviously living in Columbia and it seems like you found this product when you were living in Columbia. So, I mean, can you share a little bit about your story? What were you doing, um, before you kind of started or decided to start this business?

How did you come to Columbia? And, uh, what’s, what’s your story? What, what motivated you to start this business?

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: So to, to the, the initial response is my confidence. Far as outweighs my far outweighs my intelligence. I found this product. Like I said, I, I, I had been living in Argentina for a long time. And then I moved to Columbia from there as I, people ask why, why Scott?

Why you’re correct. I am an American. I’m from Colorado and San Francisco and [00:08:00] stuff. Uh, but I, I’m a, I’m a world. I’m a world citizen, and I’ve lived so I’ve lived 20 years now in South America, and so that’s kind of how I got here. And I just happened upon the product. And like I said, I had my wow moment with it where I realized I can position this.

This is this product needs. This needs to be positioned as the as as ideally. The staple sugar for most human beings because of how bad we all know the highly refined sugars and all refined sugars are and that story just continues to, uh, increase in, in, in coverage and knowledge. Uh, and then we, we, we try and replace with these artificial sweeteners and it’s just a matter of time until each one of those gets.

Found out to have a nasty surprise in it. So, uh, so yeah, so I, I came here by adventure. I happened upon the product and decided that looks like a [00:09:00] really big, big, fun problem to solve. How do you, how do you, uh, take something from the ground? And from another culture and reposition it for Western culture.

Let’s go solve the import export problem and the free trade problem. And the positioning and the marketing and the education problem for the consumer. And, uh, and let’s, let’s, let’s, let’s go solve a whole series of problems that I know is going to take a long time. And let’s see if we can do this.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So basically in your business, the problem, I mean, you had kind of found the product.

Uh, so the problem was not necessarily, you know, uh, coming up with the right product or, you know, uh, it was more about how do you take, bring this product from Columbia or South America to a country like the U S I’m assuming that’s your primary market. And how do you kind of educate the market on what this is and, and really build [00:10:00] the awareness and, and get the uptake.

Um, so before you kind of, uh, Invested significantly in the, in the product itself. Did you do any sort of like testing or idea validation or, you know, do anything in the U S to try to figure it out? If you put this out, mark it out in the product, people are actually going to buy it.

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Yeah, I did in my own way.

I, I, it definitely takes a certain amount of ignorance and just, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, to, to, to make the leap. Uh, without that kind of, uh, uh, uh, demographic information and, and, uh, and litmus tests and acid tests and stuff. And I definitely jumped. I definitely jumped early, but. The one thing I did do successfully and accidentally is I, I thought I was going to conquer the world with the individual serving size sachets.

I thought if I got those into every [00:11:00] Starbucks and coffee shop in America, I win. And that’s how I get it in people’s mouths and I get them to realize it. Uh, so I started with that as sort of the campaign and the pro and the objective. And so I would go to, I, we would go to the coffee fest shows. And we happened to win best new product at Coffee Fest.

I think that was in New York. Uh, now eight years ago, probably at least. And in winning that award. We then had, uh, uh, ignorantly gone and entered the natural food retail space and were, were going to the fancy food and expo shows. Fancy foods, there’s east and west, and there’s expo east and west shows. And we, uh, uh, applied, uh, for co the, the, the competition in the fancy food shows, citing that we won the coffee fest show.

They put us in the competition for the fancy food show, which put us in front of All of the head buyers for Whole [00:12:00] Foods and, uh, and, and Safeway and, and other large natural foods chains. Uh, and so we, we just sort of segued really well and accidentally into what we were told is the fastest any market.

When any product went nationwide in Whole Foods in the history of products sort of being introduced to market to going to being taken what’s called global in the Whole Foods, uh, world, but nationwide into into Whole Foods. That was just a very, uh, luck, luck and effort for sure. Um, so, so that’s, that, that was, that was, uh, that was, that was, uh, exciting and we had a lot of luck and, and we won some competitions there.

And so. Uh, that that worked out well as sort of a B. Okay, we’ve got we’ve got distribution now. Now let’s get education and let’s get marketing while we sugar is a sweetener and it’s an ingredient and it’s an additive. And it’s a [00:13:00] product that goes into what’s called the baker baking slash sweetener aisle in the it’s a retail product So then we went and chased all these different markets.

Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, it and and and we Being as small as we were we never took fund. We never took venture money or anything like that We just it was I I think a few hundred thousand dollars maximum for me and uh and a business partner and some other people And it was a case where we did the organic thing and in the end, I’m glad, but there is a good, there is good use of getting venture backed money.

Once, once an idea has been tried and tested and true, if you will, um, It’s good. It’s good to get venture money and and and give yourself the resources to cover every aspects of enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management and be able to pay for all the pieces that make [00:14:00] internally and externally a company succeed.

We, um. So in that sense, we, I probably should have, should have applied for venture money, uh, a few years back, but in the food market, an ingredient like this isn’t very attractive because the margins aren’t super high. It’s a commodity, but it is a specialty commodity. But nevertheless, it is still a commodity.

You know, venture people, they want to see X’s, 2X, 4X, 6X, right? You don’t really get that on a commodity product like a sugar or a specialty sugar. So there’s, there’s, there’s that, that, that would have probably been proven to be hard is to, is to get millions of dollars from people and stuff. Yeah.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So, I mean, uh, one challenge that I, I assume, um, in getting like math.

Um, utilization or mass, um, uh, [00:15:00] adoption of a product like this is, you know, if you know, a regular person, uh, who goes to a grocery store and can buy that processed sugar for like four or five bucks, you know, to buy the same thing, the same alternative, even though it’s, you know, the healthier option, uh, maybe tastier as well.

Um, you know, of course, the price point is a bit higher. So who is kind of the your target market and who’s actually kind of using these kind of, uh, is this considered like more of a premium product that only people who are more health focused and who have kind of the extra money to spend, uh, are buying it?

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Yeah, absolutely. Price point, price point, price points a hindrance, but to be honest, I thought it was a bigger hindrance than I think it is now. I think if I were better at marketing, I could have, I could have, I could have charged 7 for a pound of sugar. [00:16:00] If people. Knew, knew it and tried it and liked it and wanted it.

I think, I think that I felt like price point was a bigger issue than I think it is now. I think if I were better at, at, at educating the world, at at, at the, at the benefits, which there are two, there are huge health benefits to unprocessed sugar and more and more of that information is coming out now.

This is actually a, we have a lot of type two diabetics that email us and call us and tell us this product does not, does not spike their sugar levels at all. Their blood sugar. It’s kind of amazing. There’s some amazing health benefits to this product. And then we have. Bakers that buy it by the pallet because all they care about is the flavor profile and the flavor profile when applied correctly in baking and cooking is second to none.

We have a, oh, we have hundreds across the United States and [00:17:00] Alaska and Canada as well of rum, premium rum distillers, micro distillers that make rum with it because the taste is so good too. So. Yeah, price point is an issue, but I, I do feel that if I did better education to the north, the non already acquainted market, the acquainted market would be the Latinos or the, we have a lot of Indians and, and, and, and Pakistanis that buy from us direct and whatnot.

Lots because, because It’s it is. It is very similar to jaggery. And they found that and within their communities, they sell it. They actually resell it. And we give them we give them discount codes to do so. So you’ve got the educated people, the Latinos, the Middle Easterners that are purists, the kosher and halal people that are purists.

And they and this is a pure product, right? And you, so you’ve got, you’ve got the cultural [00:18:00] people and then you’ve got the natural foods and organic and unprocessed North American market that needs

is it one is a cultural target and another is a natural health, uh, and flavor profile target, but, but different demographics, right? Yeah. Awesome.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Awesome. Um, what is it like running the business from overseas? I mean, do you kind of go back and forth from Columbia to us very frequently or your business is like you’ve already created all the processes.

So it’s kind of like a hands off thing that runs on its own.

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: It’s not hands off at all. And another thing, another mistake I’ve made is, uh, I mentioned to you before I was at the Toronto food show. I, I have failed at spending more time in my market talking to store managers and seeing and [00:19:00] going to shows and being and, and, and seeing where we fit.

I, I, I, I need to spend more time geographically present in North America because I’ve, I’ve missed. Uh, positioning of my product correctly just by being just being, uh, detached or out of touch with it. It’s really, really important to go to those expos, uh, talk to people, uh, and find out where they see it.

And, uh, and whatnot. I it that idea that you can sort of eliminate geography with the Internet. It’s just it’s just not true in the physical world. I learned so much at the Toronto show from the nutrition houses, which is a big one for us because this product has nutrition value and it and it has health real health benefits, obviously, to to refine sugars.

I realized how, how accepted this [00:20:00] product is in these nutrition houses. And that’s a huge growing space subspace in the food industry. Right. Um, and let alone the bakers and whatnot. So no, man, I, I, I need to spend more time, uh, in, in, uh, surrounded by my, my target consumers.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Are there any challenges? So you said, you know, once you discovered the product you had to figure out, you know How it was exported and to uh to united states and things like that Can you talk a little bit about your supply chain logistics?

Fulfillment processes is I mean you are in in um in retail um, yes Yeah, I want I definitely want to ask is your direct to consumer business bigger than the retail? Um,

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: or

So, yeah, I mean, again, we, I, I, uh, I own a food company. I hadn’t worked in food [00:21:00] before. So food safety, organic certification, all that stuff. That’s we, we now we’re experts at that. Um, another thing that’s rare about us is we are our own package. 99 percent of the stuff you see in the metro there in Canada, Suzhant, or in Whole Foods.

All that is, is a sales and marketing thing. They don’t actually make their own product. They have contract manufacturers making their products for them. They just, all they do is that customer facing sales and marketing and positioning stuff. Um, so I kind of lost track of what your, what your direct, Oh, your question was direct versus, versus retail, if you will.

Yeah. Yeah. Um, yeah, I mean, honestly, we love Amazon and I’m, I’ve got. I’ve got deals in the works for walmart. com and and more and more of the platform online stuff because the shelf size doesn’t matter. We sell, we sell a five pound [00:22:00] bag and we sell a one pound bag. We sell five times more. 5 bags on Amazon than we do 1 bag because of the volume economics of the thing, yet we can’t get that 5 bag.

It’s probably in somewhere around 5 percent of the brick and mortar we’re in because it’s too big for the shelf, right? So what are called planograms, which is when you look at a, an aisle. That’s a planogram is what is is is how the grocer or the natural food store manages the dimensions of everything that goes into that aisle.

They won’t take the 5 bag, but online that thing sells like hot cakes. The 1 does too, but. Yeah. So we, we, we love Amazon. It’s, it’s, it’s a friendly, it’s a, it’s there. It is way friendlier to the supplier than, than the brick and mortar distributor, natural foods supplier model, [00:23:00] which is what that model is.

We’re a supplier manufacturer. Then we’ve got this distributor that is not the buyer. And you’ve got those two guys that whenever there’s an issue, the guy that eats it is me. That the small supplier, um, it’s, it’s a tough world. That food, that, that, that brick and mortar, uh, food world is food retail world.

It’s really tough because Yeah, I’m dealing with, they’re getting screamed at by 30, 20 or 30 other sweeteners all day. Uh, let alone pasta sauce and, and, and, and, uh, and everything else that’s screaming at them to, to get demos and promos and stuff done. And they’re, they’re, they’re, God bless them that their life isn’t easier than mine, but it’s, if there’s a lot of noise in, in their world and I’m just part of that noise, you know, whereas online it’s, you don’t, you don’t, you don’t have that.

So with Amazon,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: that’s that’s great to hear. Um, I did, I [00:24:00] did, I did ask you multiple questions last time. So I’ll kind of follow up on the other one that I had asked. Um, can you talk a little bit about your supply chain and how you’re kind of warehousing it in the US? How do you fulfill your products and so forth?

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Yeah. I mean, the number one thing I would say with regards to supply chain, when I talk about what’s hard for me, It’s I’m the world’s smallest multinational sugar company is what I am and in the u. s I I have this belief that It was, it was really pleasant to be at the Toronto show up there in Canada and you’re just you’re dealing with just inherently smaller, smaller things upstream and downstream from you in the United States, just like the rich and poor gap is so huge and pronounced.

It’s that’s it’s this, it’s reflected the same in biz in the business world and in the food world. You have the 800 pound [00:25:00] gorilla distributors. that are used to dealing with Heinz and craft and whatnot. And little guys like me are coming along and, and, and, and, and killing them with a thousand paper cuts, but these massive distributors that are nationwide and these, and these, and these massive, uh, chains of stores that have 400 stores and whatnot, and then I come along and they got to deal with my.

My dumb little tiny ass. It’s not fun for them. They want, they want to deal with someone that has 50 SKUs, not someone that has two, you know, so it’s, it’s really important to do your best to work with people up and down the supply chain that are the same size, roughly as you are, because it just works better.

Um, and it’s and it’s and it’s really hard in the U. S. Because the U. S. Is so mad. It gets big so quickly and the big guys the minute there is a small regional distributor that owns a [00:26:00] fleet of five trucks that handles The greater Ontario area, the big guy comes along and snatches them up, right? Because they, they don’t want any competition.

They are, they are by, by nature, mafioso. If they own trucks that they need to buy brake pads and radiators for, by God, they’re going to buy anyone, anything else that comes along that might. Might someday down the road pose a problem for them. So it’s it’s it’s and and and again that the little the the hundred the thousands of little food supplier manufacturers out there.

We get kind of caught in the middle of that of that whole thing. And it’s and it’s uh, and it’s tough. Awesome.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um. In terms of you, I mean, you’ve been running your business, what, eight years plus, uh, now, um, have you had any, um, any big successes, any [00:27:00] big marketing campaigns that work, like what has been the biggest success or, you know, uh, or, or has it been really been more of a gradual kind of a growth for you?

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: No, no. Um, uh, absolutely going to the expo is, is, is required in this business. It’s, uh, the, the, those. Those things are very, very necessary with regards to getting yourself in front of the, uh, uh, in front of the market. Um, like I said, I, I, my, I mean, we, we succeeded at Coffee Fest and that segued into succeeding, winning, winning an award at the Fancy Foods Show.

That was a very quick and early. Sequence of successes that that justified my thought that this form of sugar is really what everyone wants. They just don’t know it Um, i’ve done not a great job from there. I’m not in every every store across north america Uh [00:28:00] just because I I didn’t Get massive funding.

I didn’t seek it because I’m in Colombia. If maybe if I were in the U. S. And I had the mindset of venture backing and kind of and kind of, uh, um, saturating as quick as hard and quick as I could. I might be a lot bigger. Um, we’ve had we were doing well, and it’s frankly night for a nice size, but we yeah.

We we are planning some very good marketing campaigns right now as well that will further, um, these this wonderful scientific data that’s coming out with regards to the health benefits of non centrifugal sugar. Um, and we are expanding the Canada right now. Actually, today, our Canada bags arrived at our warehouse.

Uh, so, uh, that’s. That’s exciting. We’ve got our, our, our French and English Canada bags ready to go that we’re packaging and containerizing in about a week. Wow. Well, welcome to

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Canada. Thank you. [00:29:00] Um, in terms of your products themselves, um, is it, is it really, um, I’m assuming that there are factories in Columbia that you’re, you know, all you’re doing is simply purchasing the products and packaging them.

Is that the

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: process? Yeah, totally. I, I, the thing I found is. Is that they needed exactly that they needed a packager in countries like columbia stuff like that is very very not um Not mature. Okay. Packaging is, is, is, is really immature and therefore positioning is too. Frankly, similar to Jaggery and Gura in, in, in, in South Asia, their, their preferred consumption form is a block or a cone or a hockey puck or a, or, or, or a disc.

Um. They didn’t even grinding that into a powder was just more labor [00:30:00] that they didn’t want to do. Because they, because they are not consumer conscious. Um, it’s right. So I, they needed me to create this product to enable it to interface with the Western consumer. For sure.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: For sure. I mean, I know, I know, you know, being from India myself, it’s like, it’s a very traditional thing, right?

Something that’s been coming on generation after generation. So they never, never even bothered trying to package it or something, you know, you, you buy it locally and you consume it. And, uh, you know, so, so that’s like, uh, but I’m, I’m sure now people are more commercializing it more and more. So what is

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: it?

But I am. But that, but that’s about it. I mean, for North America, I mean from Columbia. I’m the only one dude, . But anyway. No,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: that’s, that’s, that’s great. I mean, I think, um, there is definitely a big problem of diabetes and, you know, [00:31:00] health, health issues. And I think, uh, if, uh, if there are products that kind of, um, help with that, I think it’s definitely a great

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: thing.

Oh yeah. It’s all about the baby boomer, right? I mean, it’s the baby boomer is, is what? And that is, is a huge, that falls right in with the baby boomer thing, but yeah, go ahead, Sushant. Yeah. What is, what is what?

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, what does your team look like right now? I mean, you said that you’re a small, you know, the smallest multinational operation.

Um, what does your, uh, operation team look like right

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: now? Well, and I mean, in this, in this gig economy, it’s a, it’s a, it’s an amorphous blob between between Columbia and the United States and Canada. I’ve got two, I’ve got two, two brokers in Canada now, which are wonderful. Um, so on there, there, again, there’s, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the, the, the, the ERP and the CRM, uh, uh, model of a company.[00:32:00]

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Enterprise planning and

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: everything. Yeah. So Columbia is really the E. R. P. Then the us, the US and Canada are the CRMs. Okay. Um, they’re, um, so on the, on this side, the ERP side, all of the operation and all of the cost, basically, uh, the packaging, the, the sourcing, the, the, the quality control, the food safety, food hygiene, um, um, we are 10 people.

I would say full time. Yeah, uh, and then and then a handful of accountants and and um, and and logistics uh, uh, uh Of people, you know, I mean, let’s not let’s not talk. Let’s let’s not not talk about the elephant in the room I’m i’m i’m exporting powdery substances from columbia, right? It took a while it took a while for for for all for uh, the people to rent me the the facility [00:33:00] And for the people to work at the facility and the, and the logistics shipping logistics companies to believe that this is what I’m doing.

That I, the whole thing wasn’t a front for another famous Colombian powder, if you will. Um, and it’s funny that the funny part about that is kind of one of the big days that I got over the hurdle. There was, uh, my, my, my business partner and I, we have the, we have the facility rented. We have the machines coming from the States because again, can’t get these kinds of packaging machines in countries like this.

We had to import the machinery and stuff. Um, Is we went to the, the, um, the porteros, I lose my English, the, the gate, the gatekeepers, the security guards, if you will, for our, for our, the complex of facilities that our facility is in and said, Hey, do you have any, do you have any cousins or, or, or, or nephews and nieces that can, can come help [00:34:00] us package?

And they’re like, absolutely. Flora and Maria and Christina. Absolutely. And so they. So the, so the, the security guards sent all their nieces and nephews, and then everyone agreed, agreed, we’re okay. Right. And then all of a sudden the shipping companies realized. We’re good. We’re the good guys. And then, and then, oh yeah, we’ll, we’ll send containers and let you, and let you export them.

And we’ll, you know, we’ll handle that and all that stuff. So it was, it was a fun, it was a fun, uh, uh, uh, hurdle to get over. Um, uh, because, because people wouldn’t, the logistics company, they wouldn’t touch us with a 10 foot pole. They all thought we were a front. For for various things. So, um, yeah,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: yeah, that’s that’s that’s interesting to be doing business from some of the South South American countries, I guess.

Um, so you kind of got into this business, you know, by accident, or maybe not even by accident. But, you know, you came across the product by accident. What is, um, [00:35:00] are you happy that you got into this business? And what does the future look like for you? Let’s say five years down the road. Yeah.

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: I love being a small business owner and being able to wake up every day and, and be, be, be the, the God of my own little, my own little world and universe I’ve carved out.

It’s fun as hell. Um, being, being given the keys to my own kingdom on the marketing side, as far as how do I get this into more eyeballs, brains, and mouths. Of more people in North America and and being given the opportunity to solve that problem. I love it. I, I, I love it. Um. So I, I, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m, I couldn’t be happier.

I, uh, again, I mean, I’m 50 years old. I, I went back to Colorado and hung out with all my friends, my age too. And they’re busy raising their kids, something that I don’t have and good for them. And that, that makes them fulfilled. But I don’t have though, I don’t have those little munchkins. And so this is [00:36:00] the debate, honestly, all of my, all of my employees, you know, in a country like this.

I’m, I’m doing more for this country than most foreigners that come here do. I, I am, I am, I am a, upwardly, everyone that works for me here is female. I have one male that just started two, three weeks ago for me. He’s the first one. It is all women, single women with children. The work will be here. So I am enabling people to, to, uh, to break through their respective glass ceiling that otherwise they wouldn’t be doing, you know, understanding the intricacies of food safety, food hygiene, organic certification, um, raw materials to finish product and how that has to flow through a food safety, uh, protocol, uh, uh, and, and, and, and stuff.

It’s, it’s, it’s wonderful. And then they’re my children, you know, and so [00:37:00] it’s, it’s a family we’ve got. And, uh, like I said, otherwise, I don’t think anyone else would be doing this. It’s, um, I feel like I’m, I’m making the world a better place.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: No, that’s that’s that’s really great. Um, in every entrepreneur’s journey, there’s always mistakes made lessons learned failures.

Um, I’m sure you had your own fair share. What has been, um, a big mistake or failure that sticks out in your mind? What did you learn from it? What can other entrepreneurs learn from your mistakes?

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Well, we put the wrong barcode on 35, 000 bags. Okay. That was a good one. Or Amazon. Uh, that was long before we, we now are huge on Amazon.

Um. Yeah, we if you if you search on like panela sugar and stuff, we we are the we are amazon’s choice We we I saw we sell a lot, uh through there. Um, but um Have we had a have we had a [00:38:00] recall? No Um, but we did we we did ship bags with the wrong barcode on them. Uh, and we and luckily caught that Somewhat in time that was a that was a huge.

Um, huge error Um And as far as like, uh, yeah, labeling when you’re, when you’re, when you’re a packager and a food company, when you make a mistake. It typically does, uh, it is a mistake that covers hundreds of tons or tens of thousands of units. And so it tends to be a very big mistake. I was in software before.

You can’t go rev a different release at midnight to fix the mistake. It’s like video games in the 90s when you printed 400, 000 copies on DVDs and you shipped them out and you found out that there [00:39:00] was a Show stopping, PC crashing bug, right? Heh, it’s too late! It’s already been distributed. It’s out there.

Um, so labeling is, is, is really, really tough particularly in Canada. You guys are, you guys are insanely strict on labeling. Uh, so that’s where the, that’s, that’s where big mistakes can occur. The whole COVID thing crushed the supply chain. You couldn’t find pallets down here worth a damn. We had to, we had to, uh, we had to ship containers with pallets that just fell apart upon arrival.

If, if, if DEA or, or customs, if you will, which DEA falls under, if those guys had chose. To do intense inspections, which they do most of the time on sugar. If they chose to do intense inspection and unload all of our pallets out of those containers that had the bad pallets in ’em, our pallet, our, our product would’ve just crumbled to the ground and we [00:40:00] would’ve been out $40,000, uh, uh, uh, on, they wouldn’t have reloaded our pallets and reloaded our container.

They would’ve incinerated all of it, so, whoa. Interesting.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah. Um. A lot of, a lot of things on, on the packaging side of things, it seems like, and I know Canada definitely has a lot of regulations for sure. Now I’m going to move on to our rapid fire segment. In this segment, I’m going to ask you a few quick questions and you have to answer them maybe in a couple of words or a sentence or so.

Um, one book recommendation for entrepreneurs and why?

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Well, the, the, the, the one that comes to my head is the one that the Clif Bar guy read, wrote. Um, the guy who wrote Clif Bar and, and yeah, just read, uh, and that one, honestly, because of one thing he said, which is give your product away for zero margin, give it away for free in the beginning, get it into people’s hands and mouths and, and just get, you need to get it [00:41:00] into velocity and you have to get it moving and don’t worry about your price point and making sure you’re not losing money.

Because that guess what? You probably aren’t. You were probably not good at the very difficult financials of. balancing, uh, um, uh, uh, doing your financials to understand that if you’re making 35 units at 35, 000 units at a time, you’re probably making money and you’ve done your financials too conservatively.

So the, the cliff bar, the cliff bar business book. Awesome.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, an innovative product or idea in the current e commerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about,

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: um, an intro and

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: product or idea. Any, anything, any product or idea that you use or you, you like, uh, feel for

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: me, for me, I, I, I, I guess data robot. Which is an, a business artificial intelligence [00:42:00] software, because again, we package in Columbia and then we ship to Miami and now we’re shipping all the way to Ontario, but that all of that is packaged in Columbia.

So we need to project what are in those containers as between our five pound and our one pound and our conventional bulk and our organic certified bulk and sachets, we need to predict. What is going to happen in the future, right? Because we don’t do our packaging on site, if you will, on the States and Canada.

Therefore AI and data robot being a really good one is really good at that predictive forecasting stuff. Awesome.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: And you use the, like, does that integrate with the, I’m assuming you use Shopify

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: or. Well, no, there’s no, no, no data robot doesn’t integrate with with we use Squarespace. Sorry, Canada. Um, and we love Squarespace.

It’s wonderful. Shopify is awesome to both. They’re both great. And they’re both wonderful. But no data robot. That’s. That’s, that’s [00:43:00] kind of more, uh, uh, I think, I, I don’t know if DataRobot has any sort of APIs for, for, for the, the billing systems, uh, the customer facing billing systems or not. I’m just more, yeah, I’m not sure, do you know Soushant?

Are you familiar with it? No,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: I don’t. I’m sorry. A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend or a productivity tip?

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Google Sheets. I run my whole company on Google Sheets. People, I worked in enterprise software. I was an Oracle, a director of Oracle applications before. I worked at Netscape Communications back in the day.

Everyone wants you to put your, put your, your business in their enterprise software so that your You’re handcuffed to it for the rest of your life. Google sheets are, can, I I’ve, I’ve worked for midsize, uh, uh, tech companies that run their entire businesses on Excel spreadsheets. That it works great.

Don’t, don’t get beholden [00:44:00] to enterprise software just for the sake of you. Thank you. It’s making you big and cool. For sure.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: For sure. Um, I didn’t know you were in software and I. T. That, that sounds very interesting. Um, a startup or business, uh, another startup or business in e commerce, retail or tech that you think is currently doing great things?

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Yeah. Canyon, Canyon bicycles. Because they are, they figured out the direct model a long time ago. Uh, and, and you buy Canyon bikes online, a bike that would cost 15, 000, like a specialized you can buy from Canyon for 6, 000. I mean, literally you get, you get, you get twice the bet bike at half the price. And, and they’re just an incredibly tech savvy, uh, company that is leveraging technology to make, to, to sell bikes around the world.


Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Uh, a [00:45:00] peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you?

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Um, yeah. Okay. Interesting. I should have read, read these questions maybe before talking to you.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Anybody, anybody you look up to, or, you know, any. Anyone who’s kind of an inspiration. I’ll

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: tell you what’s inspiring is I, I consider myself a, a, a, a couch. What is the term a novice or a, a, a part time stoic following the, the, the writings of stoicism.

And I, I, I really. I really, uh, uh, uh, follow the, the, the belief set of the, of the stoic, of stoic stoicism. So, that Marcus Aurelius stuff, if you want to go to the deep philosophical side, and also the contemporaries that speak to it, are really good guys to listen to as far as how [00:46:00] you should approach your business and personal life.

Uh, I think it’s, I think they’ve got it really nailed out. And how to, and just, and just approach everything with logic. And using the stoic logic is, is, is, is a, is a good way.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah. Marcus Aurelius has a great book, uh, the meditations and, uh, I think, uh, Seneca is another stoic, right? Uh, final question, best business advice you ever received or you would give to other entrepreneurs?

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Um, the best, uh, yeah, in the, in the business I’m in the best business of the cost. There was a book written by Gordon Bell, who was one of the, uh, Three founders of Intel that’s been out of print for years. It was called high tech ventures. Uh, he, he had it all worked out in that, in there. Um, well, I’ll get rich slowly.

Like I said, I’ve been doing this for honestly 10 [00:47:00] years and, and, uh, that idea of, of, of, of being a unicorn, just throw that out the window. You don’t do it. Just don’t just, just go, go, go work for somebody and don’t waste your time. The flash in the pan. So here’s the one that I figured out because I did work in Silicon Valley and I started startups is don’t yeah, get rich slowly, which is what, what, uh, what’s his name?

Berkshire Hathaway says, and the other, and, and, and, uh, gosh, what was it? Yeah. Don’t, don’t see going and raising venture money as the end game. People think that I do that. I win. Like, no, then, then, then you fail. Um, yeah, go, go, go, go, don’t do that. Don’t, don’t go raise money, go, go suffer, you know, so that’s it.


Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: for sure. That’s a great advice. I mean, I think a lot of the times unicorns are [00:48:00] really a result of like, accidental luck, you know, you’re trying something and it just worked. And I, I find like, even, you know, on this podcast, I’ve spoken with people who are doing really well. And, you know, they’re just selling like regular products.

You would, you would not even imagine like that this would make this person multimillionaire and things like that. So it’s like, There are so many things one can do to, to make money. And I don’t think chasing to be a unicorn is really a great, a great way to do it. Well, Scott, thank you so much again for sharing your story, for sharing all your business advice, how you started your business, successes and failures.

Um, really, really appreciate it. If anybody wants to get in touch with you or buy your product, what is the best way to do that?

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Well, our website, J U S T P as in Paul, A N as in Nancy, E L A dot com, 1 L, JustPanela. com, and [00:49:00] feel free to email Scott, S C O T T, at JustPanela.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: com. Awesome, thank you so much, Scott, really, really appreciate your time, thanks for sharing your story, and wish you all the very best.

Scott Unkefer of Just Panela: Yeah, Sushant, I might be in Toronto in the new year, I’ll let you know.


One Reply to “$175K/Month – Bringing Colombian Organic and Unrefined Cane Sugar to the Western Market – Scott Unkefer of Just Panela”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *