Local man turns salsa hobby into salesFrom car sales to salsa? Dave Merten has made the transition. And over the last year he and his family have attempted to bring his homemade recipe to the masses – one grocery store at a time.
By: Hank Long, Woodbury Bulletin
From car sales to salsa?
Dave Merten has made the transition. And over the last year he and his family have attempted to bring his homemade recipe to the masses – one grocery store at a time.
The Woodbury resident and creator of Snappy Dog Salsa spends a couple days a week in a rented kitchen in St. Paul where he will produce as many as 700 cans of mild, medium and hot flavors. He promotes the salsa at the downtown St. Paul Farmers Market and delivers to grocers such as Byerly’s, Lund’s, Whole Foods and Bonngard’s.
Next week Snappy Dog Salsa will hit the shelves at Kowalski’s in Woodbury.
“It’s been a pretty exciting process,” Merten said of his venture over the last year to turn a family recipe he sold as a hobby at local farmers markets into a full-scale small business operation.
Although he said he’s confident in the quality of his salsa, Merten said there is a lot of red tape involved in getting a food product approved to sell in grocery stores. And then comes the hard part – the pitch.
“You’re knocking on a lot of doors getting a lot of ‘no’s’ before you get the ‘yes,’” he said. “But fortunately we have some good grocers (in the Twin Cities) that like to give the local guys a chance.”
After two decades in the car sales business Merten said he decided to take a dive into the world of the small business owner. He admits he couldn’t have gotten Snappy Dog Salsa off the ground without some help from his family.
Merten officially filed his salsa business with the state in the fall of 2008. He began renting kitchen space to produce 50-plus cases of salsa a day while he pitched his product to Twin Cities area grocers. His sons, Dan and Mike, help with the production process. His daughter Jackie, a Middleton Elementary student, designed the Snappy Dog label. And his wife Maureen has been there for the moral support.
“She said, ‘Why don’t you just market the salsa, get the kids on the bus, and make dinner, I’ll keep working,’” Merten said. “Fortunately, we’ve been able to do those things even as we get busier with orders.”
A bit of a bite
Merten said he believes his salsa stands out among its competitors on the shelves because of a key ingredient, or a lack thereof.
“So many salsa brands use way too much tomato paste,” Merten said. “A lot of people who love salsa are looking for more flavor. We give it to them.”
Merten admits even the Snappy Dog mild salsa has a bit of a bite, but said that’s the point.
“It’s a recipe I’ve developed for friends and family for many years,” he said. “You get it just right and then you don’t change it.”
Merten said that contrary to the opinion of some, this is not a bad economic climate for a small business owner to try something new. You just have to find your niche, he said.
“Anytime the economy gets bad, people seem to look to support the more local product,” he said. “For me it’s not about developing this thing at break neck speed. I just enjoy the process.”