Sugar & Spice, Frank Almeida’s Sweet Startup
Ten years ago, there were no cookies in Argentina. Argentines were high consumers of alfajores and shortbread, but there was nothing comparable to a gourmet, high-class cookie. No chocolate chip, no oatmeal raisin, no peanut butter: no cookies. One expat, Frank Almeida saw the lack of cookies as a major opportunity.
Frank moved to Buenos Aires in 1999 to be with his Argentine girlfriend, who is now is wife. He was working for Crown Relocation, helping relocate business people to Buenos Aires. When the economic collapse hit in 2001, business people stopped coming to Argentina, but rather, started leaving.
A financial collapse and loss of a job is a heavy hit for any person, but Frank took the opportunity to analyze his life and decide how he wanted to live. He wanted more control over his life and set out to open his own business. His first venture was in selling organic jams and preserves, but the economic climate at the time made this difficult with costs rising in pesos and dollars.
Then he came up with the idea for Sugar and Spice. Argentina had no cookies, but the population had a clear affinity for sweets. Frank’s wife had studied gastronomy in Buenos Aires and in Paris and had a passion for cooking for others. Frank asked her to bake cookies, to bring a bit of his American traditional food to Argentina.
Often criticized for its lack of culinary diversity, Buenos Aires is actually a rich center for ethnic foods, from the Armenian immigrants who brought their infamous shawarma, the Spanish with the ubiquitous cured ham and Italians with their hand-made pastas. Now we see the rise of popularity in Korean BBQ and American style brunch, traditions brought by new waves of immigrants.
Cookies were completely unheard of at the time, so while Frank worked on creating a great product, he also worked on educating the potential consumer market. The concept of a cookie met some surprising resistance. ‘Who would want a cookie when you can have an alfajor?’ was the common attitude. Frank shared the beauty of an open market, offering: ‘why not have both?’
The company started as a micro project, baking cookies in the home oven that were then sold to local cafes. Business was built off of client referrals. That summer, when the entire city was on vacation, Frank walked and mapped out the streets of the city, looking for businesses to target, making contacts and introducing the brand and the new product.
Frank started selling to delicatessens, wine stores, and businesses that targeted travelers and the expat community, an audience that had an international recognition of the product. After a few years their business grew large enough that they needed to open a factory. Sugar and Spice now bakes out of their model kitchen factory in Palermo Hollywood, a factory that employs over twenty people and is considered to be an ideal manufacturing facility, used as an example by the local government.
As the factory and the business grew, so did the clientele. Expanding from local cafes, Sugar and Spice products are now sold in all major Argentine chains, from Freddo, Aroma and Chungo, to Disco and Jumbo. The demand didn’t stop and the market continued to expand. Sugar and Spice now exports to Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay and produces the cookies and biscottis that are sold in all Starbucks franchises in the city.
Sugar & Spice’s high quality recipe is now top secret, as many imitators try to replicate it. What makes Sugar and Spice cookies so delicious and hard to replicate is the hand-made artisan charm and natural, high-quality ingredients that go into every product. Anyone who has tried one of their chocolate chip cookies knows that they don’t skimp on the good chocolate.
Although the cookie is an American favorite, it has now become completely fuzed with Agentine cuisine. Sugar and Spice didn’t just stop at cookies, they make brownies, bagels, breads, crackers, biscotti, savory cookies and are constantly developing new flavors for their products. Sugar and Spice incorporates Argentine flavors and makes several unique and exclusive flavors of pan dulce, a traditional Argentine holiday food, like Chocolate Hazelnut, Chocolate Chip, Dulce de Leche, Traditional and their hallmark “Inolvidable”, which is made with hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, raisins, and candied orange peel, topped off with their own exclusive almond paste.
Today you can get a cookie anywhere. They are on almost every cafe menu, sold in every store and served with mate meriendas. You can thank Frank Almeida for that.