Killer Salsa founder nearing retirement

After stumping hard to get her Killer Salsa placed in regional Walmart stores, Fran Pritchard got a call in 2010 from an executive at the giant retailer's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

Walmart asked if Pritchard could handle 500 locations - an overwhelming number for a six-person company working out of a cramped 2,000-square-foot space in south Gardnerville.

Pritchard settled on 50 stores, and jars of her salsa now rub elbows with the likes of La Victoria and Pace at Walmart stores throughout Nevada and northern California.

In most instances growth has occurred by happenstance for Killer Salsa. For instance, Pritchard added a green tomatilla salsa to her product lineup after getting a request from a buyer at Montbleu Resort at South Lake Tahoe, which uses her other products.

She landed a coveted placement in the Carson City Costco in April of 2010, and an executive from the company's headquarters in Issaquah, Wash., called one day to ask why she wasn't selling in the other regional Costco locations. About 25 percent of Panchitas Killer Salsa's gross revenue now comes from those locations - but it's also increased the cost of doing business, Pritchard says.

"To get into Costco, you have to have a third-party audit for food safety. They look at everything you do, and there is no margin for error."

Killer Salsa also can be found in regional Raley's, Smith's, Scolari's and Winco stores. Securing grocery shelf space has never been easy, especially in the refrigerated section. Scolari's was the first store to take a chance at selling Killer Salsa.

Pritchard made an unannounced visit to the company's Reno headquarters 18 years ago and convinced a company executive to stock the salsa at the Gardnerville location. Pritchard spurred sales by offering product samples.

She gradually won placement in all regional Scolari's stores and later added the Raley's chain. Convincing other stores to sell the salsa became much easier at that point, she says. She didn't even have to jump through hoops to secure a lucrative deal with Walmart.

Pritchard called the company's Tex-Mex buyer in Bentonville to ask for a few more stores, and after the buyer gathered data on her sales figures he promptly offered her a crack at 500 locations.

Since July of 2012, Killer Salsa is found in 62 Walmarts, including all of the company's locations in Las Vegas, Henderson, Mesquite and Pahrump. Her first order for Walmart was for 389 cases of jarred salsa, and she's shipping 60 cases each of four different flavors each month.

"Someone up there is really watching over us - the people who have been thrown our direction, it's like, 'Wow, where did they come from,'" Pritchard says. Sales are slowly increasing at Walmart locations, she says, as consumers become more familiar with the product.

"Nobody had ever heard of us outside of this area. The challenge is to get the word out there."

Pritchard and her small team have been making salsa in their current location for 15 years. Pritchard started out making original and hot salsa and later added garlic, fire roasted tomato and smoked chipotle versions.

Pritchard says the fresh refrigerated salsa probably won't ever be sold outside of Northern Nevada due to the lengthy and circuitous route the product takes before finding its way to store shelves. The product has a five-week shelf life, but by the time it hits the stores it's only good for two weeks.

"I never thought the jarred product would overtake the fresh, but it has," she says.

Pritchard hired a few new hands to meet the additional demand. There is no automation at Killer Salsa; everything is done by hand. The placement at Walmart also brought her into the digital age.

"I am being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century," Pritchard says. "The older you get the harder it is to change.

Pritchard, 69, has begun eyeing an exit strategy for the business she founded nearly two decades ago in a kitchen the size of a small break room. It's time, she says, for someone else to take over the established business.

"The customers already are there, and I am ready now to let someone else take it over," she says. "I have been doing this for 20 years, and when you own a business it consumes you. It is time for me to go play a little bit.

"I am thinking of someone in the food industry who wants to put some money into it. I have the established customers. They can take it to the next level."

Next up: Innovative dehydrated salsa product

Killer Salsa has begun selling a dehydrated version of its original salsa for backpackers and other outdoors enthusiasts.

Killer Salsa president Fran Pritchard says the idea for the product formed after hearing from an employee of the Lemmon Valley Scolari's store, an avid outdoorsman who dehydrated the product at home prior to taking 10-day backpacking trips.

Pritchard purchased a commercial dehydrator and is perfecting labeling and packaging of the product before approaching Cabelas, REI, Sportsman's Warehouse and Scheels for placement.

"Nobody makes a dehydrated salsa," she says. "They want samples, but until I have my packaging perfected I am not comfortable sending them samples."

The product looks like a fruit roll-up when it comes out of the dehydrator and its re-mixed with water to make salsa. The product sells for three packages for $12. Pritchard says she sold a lot at a National Guard Convention in Reno - which could lead to another overwhelming order if the military picks up on the product.

"Be careful what you wish for," she says. "If I get an order for 1,000 packages, I am going to be up a crick without a paddle." Her small dehydrator only makes 28 packages at a time.


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