Soldadera Coffee tallies growth milestones

Latinx-owned cold brew producer enters multiple new sales partnerships.
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Mario Rodriguez-Garcia and Gabriela Rodriguez-Garcia were inspired by the women who stood up for human rights in Mexico: the soldaderas of 1910. Courtesy Soldadera Coffee

A family- and Latinx-owned cold brew coffee business founded in Grand Rapids is gaining national momentum.

Grand Rapids-based Soldadera Coffee is owned and managed by siblings Mario Rodriguez-Garcia and Gabriela Rodriguez-Garcia, who started the business in 2017 as a tribute to their grandmother, Cristina, a social activist in Mexico. Their father, Cesar Rodriguez-Fontanel, also is part of the production and sales team.

The original recipe of Soldadera — which means “female soldier” — was inspired by the women who stood up for human rights in Mexico: the soldaderas of 1910. Each Soldadera Coffee flavor has a cultural story aimed at connecting with consumers while offering the product in a reusable, eco-friendly can.

Since launching its first offering in 2018, Soldadera has landed product on the shelves of Meijer’s small-format grocery stores Bridge Street Market, Capital City Market and Woodward Corner Market, along with Kingma’s, Art of the Table, the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, Start Garden, Pack Elephant, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts and more. It also inked distribution deals with SpartanNash and Gordon Food Service.

This month, Soldadera said it signed a deal with Meijer Inc. to sell its products at 105 Meijer stores in five states. Mario Rodriguez-Garcia said this was somewhat of a “surreal” milestone, as growing up as a migrant child, he used to ask his parents why he couldn’t have a product on the shelves.

“It always seemed unreachable to my parents, and for me, it just never made sense why we couldn’t. And now … we finally made it into (Meijer) and it’s kind of surreal to think … we’re actually there. That’s something that we’re really proud of, and we thank the community for helping us get there.”

Soldadera recently inked a partnership with Grand Valley State University stemming from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Pure Michigan Business Connect vendor summit. The deal will allow Soldadera to sell its products at the GVSU campuses. Soldadera also formed an agreement with the Sam’s Club Road Show program to present its products to consumers by the keg at stores in five different states.

Additionally, Soldadera was invited to sponsor the Meijer LPGA Classic June 16-19 and sell a Soldadera-infused rum cocktail there; the Family Business Alliance golf outing June 14; and SHE RUNS Grand Rapids on May 1. They secured permission to sell a limited number of cases at John Ball Zoo and offer samples during this year’s SpringGR Juneteenth Festival at the zoo, with the hopes of forging a long-term sales partnership with John Ball Zoo.

“I don’t think I’ve heard of other local businesses being at the zoo and actually selling there, so that’s something that we have been pushing the limits on how far we can take our natural product and immerse it in within our community here,” Mario Rodriguez-Garcia said.

The Rodriguez-Garcias said their ability to grow has not been hampered by overseas supply chain bottlenecks like some other companies, as their products are all made in Michigan, and the “cost-effective” product formula they use means they are able to keep prices low for the consumer.

They said their sales and increasing revenue generated through the various events and partnerships also demonstrate the “flexibility” of their brand and product.

“I think everybody either likes their cold brew or they want a cocktail,” Mario Rodriguez-Garcia said, “and so we are able to provide that from the moment that you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, a versatile product, and we’re really happy about that. From the beginning, we wanted to make a big impact; we wanted to make sure that everybody loved the product regardless of their habits or their taste, and I think so far, (that) has helped us to get to where we are.”

The company — which up until now has been operated solely by the family — currently is looking for new production space and beginning to hire for production, sales, accounting and marketing roles so it can effectively scale. Its next revenue goal is “close to a quarter-million,” Mario Rodriguez-Garcia said.

The family also is in talks with the Fair Food Network to secure additional funding on top of the RISE loan it received from Rende Progress Capital last fall, and it is working on a few other “fun projects” like kombucha drinks.

“All the other pieces of the puzzles are lining up, and we’re really excited, because we don’t know where it’s going to go — the sky’s the limit,” Mario Rodriguez-Garcia said.

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