Annie Leal’s Viral Sugar-Free Chamoy Was Created For Her Father’s Sweet-tooth
For I Love Chamoy founder Annie Leal, starting her business was personal. Her father was diagnosed with diabetes a little over ten years ago, soon after they immigrated to the United States from Mexico.
When Leal visited home a couple of years ago, she looked through her dad’s sugar-free stash of sweets to fulfill her craving. She saw all the well-known American brands of chocolate, caramels, lollipops, and licorice, but there was nothing that had the familiar Mexican flavors she grew up with. When she asked him why, he said he just couldn’t find any.
“That was my light bulb moment,” said Leal. “If my dad didn’t have a product to satisfy his craving for our cultural favorites, I would bring it to market.”
In August 2021, she launched I Love Chamoy, a 10-ounce bottle of the tangy candy without sugar and aspartame. It’s her “love letter” to her dad, culture, and community. Leal spent her life’s savings on the endeavor and six months developing and testing the healthier formula.
The Mexican entrepreneur spoke to mitú about how the Latino community rallied around her product, how social media can help new businesses, and overcoming setbacks.
Latinos helped her product go viral
With a professional background in media and passion for the Internet, Leal took her community along for the ride on TikTok and Instagram throughout product development until its launch.
In fact, they went viral before production of the monk fruit-sweetened candy began, selling out in the very first week of business.
“When our community loves something, they share it with everyone they know,” said Leal. “From that moment, I knew I had something special on my hands.”
She knew that word of mouth would have to be a big part of her new business, but she wasn’t expecting how much it would grow. They now had more than 400 thousand followers and over 300 million views. It’s no surprise that major grocery chains, like HEB, had their eye on them.
It was a real sight for her to witness a tool she used to create representation in the Latino community turning her business into a beautiful community. Leal’s genuine love for her Mexican culture informs her every decision. “I like to say that I Love Chamoy is what happens when culture meets the spark of innovation,” she said.
Moving past hurdles
Starting a new business is never easy, even when pivoting to a new idea. In the beginning, Leal recalls being difficult not to get discouraged when people wouldn’t believe her vision.
“Many people didn’t think there was a market for healthy Mexican candy,” she says. “Boy, were they wrong.”
Two weeks after launching I Love Chamoy, Leal’s company van was broken into. Over $10,000 worth of inventory was stolen, causing renewed hardship.
Additionally, she kept her full-time media job for a year after launching her business to keep her financially secure. “I truly believe this was the smartest choice, but it did make that year working my full-time job and building a new company incredibly hectic and exhausting,” said Leal.
Leal wants Latina entrepreneurs to bet on themselves
Leal suggests to any Latinas looking to start their business to seek guidance in areas they aren’t familiar with.
For instance, she is more than proficient in social media. Her innovative use gave I Love Chamoy brand recognition without spending money on marketing. Instead, Leal was able to invest her funds and find aid in the creation of the candy formula.
“A good business person is hyper-aware of what they’re great at and not so good at,” Leal adds. “Seek advice, but ultimately trust your gut.”
Betting on yourself and your talents is a great way to get started in entrepreneurship. Leal loves the quote, “You can’t edit a blank page,” because it reminds her that she has to make that leap as soon as she can. She mentions that you don’t have to wait until you’ve reached your idea of perfection before launching your product.
“Once you’ve accepted that learning is going to be an ongoing staple in having your business, everything becomes much less scary and much more exciting,” said Leal.