How Mexican sauce brand I Love Chamoy went viral on TikTok

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When Annie Leal’s father was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years ago, his whole lifestyle had to change. But little did she know that it would one day change her life too.

“My dad immediately changed his diet, but he’s always had a sweet tooth and I’ve known for years that he has a cupboard full of sugar-free treats,” says Leal. About 18 months ago, she rummaged through the sugar-free treats her dad had hidden in his pantry, hoping to find something sweet for herself. She also wanted to satisfy her craving for Mexican candy, something she particularly loved, being born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. Yet there was nothing, only chocolates, lollipops and caramels.

“I was like, ‘How don’t they have sugar-free Mexican candy?’ and he was like, ‘Mija, I can’t find it,'” Leal re-enacts. She was in disbelief, spending the entire evening combing the internet for some form of sugar-free spicy and sweet candy to give her dad. , but there was none. The answer was immediately obvious to her: she should make it herself. This was the start of I Love Chamoy, a brand of sugar-free Mexican sauce created by Leal.

“The next day my dad drove me to Target to pick up notebooks and markers, like it was the first day of school,” laughs Leal. “I didn’t know where to start, but I just started drafting names and a logo.”

Leal has a background in social media and marketing, and had developed branding for a company run by a food engineer. It was then that she decided to call on her for the recipe and development part of I Love Chamoy. “I never thought I’d be in consumer goods,” she says, adding, “I really can’t cook to save my life, which is fun.”

Although Leal didn’t know exactly how research and development worked, she knew intimately what chamoy should look like. So began his journey of testing iteration after iteration of sugar-free chamoy, concocted with chilli, lime, citric acid and sweetened with monk fruit. By the 27th version, Leal was convinced that she had found the flavor and introduced it to her father and sister.

Although she loves her family and their unwavering support of her and the company, they are not one to be dishonest. “My little sister is judgmental but in the best possible way,” laughs Leal. “I expected her to be like, ‘This is so good,’ but instead she was like, ‘You’re not there yet.'” balance between sweet, spicy and tangy, without added sugar.

Leal’s first run was an order for 750 bottles, something she hoped could sell out within six months. But using her marketing chops, she posted about her company on TikTok, hoping to at least draw attention to her new product. The video went viral and her order sold out in less than a week. “Turns out a lot of people have similar stories to my dad, so we’ve been racing 100 mph since then,” Leal smiled.

The next agenda was to eliminate the red 40 from its ingredients, feedback it received from its growing TikTok community. He was back to test a new formula, this time with attempts to replace the artificial coloring with natural shades of beet and cranberry powder. Leal ultimately settled on hibiscus, which is known for its vibrant red color as well as its pungent flavor which is a natural complement to chamoy. Hibiscus is also frequently used in Mexican cooking, so the pairing made sense.

“I think sharing our business on TikTok and Instagram and growing it that way made for a quick and effective feedback loop,” she explains. “After seeing these very valid comments, I realized that there is this whole audience that we are not tapping into by not changing that about our product.”

Changing the recipe worked. I Love Chamoy is currently available for pre-order, having sold out multiple times, and Leal’s next run has grown from an initial 750 bottles to 15,000 bottles. All over TikTok, people are sharing videos of themselves trying his product — with fruit, in micheladas, on cucumber. Even people who have never tried chamoy are discovering different ways to use it.

“Someone said to me, ‘I didn’t know what to do with it, but I marinated shrimp and it was amazing,’” says Leal. “I’m not going to tell people how to eat it, but I love when they find new, creative ways.”

Family is at the heart of Leal’s story. Everyone is involved: her mother functions as a vice president of operations, constantly checking on sales. Her sister has a background in finance and is the custodian of QuickBooks. Her dad became the face of I Love Chamoy and even got recognition from the TikToks he was featured on.

And Leal, of course, is the mastermind behind it all, leading a positive TikTok community that shows the transparency behind his entrepreneurial journey and all the behind-the-scenes work it takes to build a family business.

“We’ve never had a hobby where we’re all together and so involved,” she says. “It really is the icing on the cake of it all.”

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