Daily Press - February 01, 2004
Don Harris was thrilled last week when Smithfield Foods bought a 15 percent stake in Spain’s largest hog company, Campofrio Alimentacion. The Harris family business, Williamsburg based Tienda (Spanish for “store”), was the first Campofrio retailer in the United States. Harris, who spent about three years in Spain while he was a chaplain in the Navy, started Tienda in 1996. The company sells Spanish food and products online at www.tienda.com and has a small store at its warehouse in Williamsburg.
Q: What kind of marketing do you do?
A: We actually don’t do any marketing, other than getting placed high on Google searches; but otherwise, it’s all word of mouth. All of our products are from Spain, and some of our products are not available in the most places in the U.S. So one part of the market is Spaniards whose culture revolves around food, and now they can find it.
Q: How do you decide which new products to add?
A: You have to become very familiar with the culture of Spain, and that involves going over there often. If you were to open a store for Americans in Afghanistan, you would include something like Skippy peanut butter or Coca Cola – staple American products. We started with one of the signature products of Spain, jamon Serrano country ham.
Q: What are your biggest distribution challenges?
A: You’re dealing with two different cultures. The Spanish are interested in homemade quality, and they find all of our regulations irrational. So you have to encourage them to conform. Because if they don’t fill out the forms and don’t register with the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), they can’t get in.
Q: Why did you start selling Campofrio products, and what does the Smithfield deal mean to your business?
A: Our current focus is to bring in the ultimate Spanish ham, jamon iberico, or pata negra, which means “black-footed pigs.” It’s never come into the U.S., and it’s the ultimate delicacy, and as we are the first to bring jamon Serrano, now we’re going to be the first with iberico. So we looked all around to see who was capable of doing that, and Campofrio has the capital necessary to build an entirely new plant for a slaughterhouse and curing facility. We’re delighted about the Smithfield deal because it means that Smithfield is interested in Spain, and Spain is recognizing the American market.
Q: Has getting mentioned in cooking magazines helped gain new customers?
A: Absolutely. That is what’s changed. Our immediate market was expatriate Spaniards. Next are people who were stationed in Spain and traveled in Spain. Now with the cooking magazines, we’re gaining another market that knows nothing about Spain, and they’re very Anglo. We’ve been fortunate because there are a variety of things going on now with Mediterranean diets, which include olive oil. Tapas are in fashion now, and so is paella.