Background: Based in Austin, Texas, COCINA 54 makes Argentina-style frozen empanadas in in four flavors: Traditional Beef, Spicy Beef, Chicken & Peppers, and Spinach & Cheese. The company was started in 2017 by Cecilia Panichelli, who is originally from Argentina. The brand’s empanadas are currently available in over 1,000 retail locations, with a solid footprint at H-E-B stores in Texas.
Why we started a sustainability program: From the day we started COCINA 54 we wanted to create a brand that would inspire people to do better. We created a goal-oriented sustainability program that is embedded in our mission statement: “We believe in keeping it simple at work, at home, in our food and relationships.”
We decided to measure sustainability by analyzing the effect that our business has not only on the environment but also on society. We looked at simple things that a start-up could choose to do to be more sustainable including sourcing most of our ingredients locally, selecting transportation partners that are sustainable, and supporting local businesses and education partners.
One of COCINA 54's biggest clients is Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B, where COCINA 54 has dedicated freezer space with the company's logo and design around it. The brand is available in over 1,000 total retail outlets today, including recent distribution to Target stores.
One of COCINA 54's sustainability goals is to procure ingredients for their empanadas from within 100 miles of their Austin, Texas, facility. The company also recently reduced package size by 10% to generate less waste and packaging film usage.
What our short-term sustainability goals are: We picked one short-term environmental goal and one short-term societal goal. In terms of our impact on the environment, we wanted to source 80% of our ingredients from within 100 miles from our facility. Today, after three years in business, we have achieved that goal. Many companies choose packaging from China or beef from Australia, but we decided to work with local Texas ranchers that could provide antibiotic-free meats optimizing our supply chain to reduce greenhouse emissions while also contributing to our local economy. I think it’s important to realize that the size of your company doesn’t matter, large or small, you can still implement a sustainability program.
In terms of our impact on society, we chose diversity as a key element that we can own. Our short-term goal was to identify and align ourselves with institutions that are already promoting diversity. Today, we work together with Chobani Incubator—which is probably the best example of a diverse culture environment I have ever seen—and Target’s Hispanic Council, which promotes Latinx businesses within Target stores to bring diversity through products and flavors that better fit consumers’ needs.
And finally, we received our Minority Business Certification from the National Minority Supplier Business Council that promotes a more diverse supplier landscape. Working with these bigger institutions has allowed us to create synergies that impact the landscape even quicker, to reach Hispanic-led organizations that need mentorship, food, or funds, but most importantly it allows us to lead by example creating a brand, founded by a Latin couple, that brings innovation in the frozen food aisle.
COCINA 54's empanadas come in four flavors: Traditional Beef, Spicy Beef, Spinach & Cheese, and Chicken & Peppers. The company works with local Texas ranchers to provide antibiotic-free meats for their products, reducing COCINA 54's carbon footprint.
What our long-term sustainability goals are: Our long-term environmental goal is to reduce even more of our carbon footprint. For our long-term societal goal, in the next three years, we want to create a #MakeMonday program and partner with small Latinx entrepreneurs where they can share their creations, whether it’s art or other CPG products. We truly want to amplify voices, show how diverse the Hispanic culture is, and how innovative it can be. According to Nielsen’s Multicultural Edge Report, multicultural consumers are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. Hispanics will experience the most growth among multicultural consumers, growing from 17% of the total population in 2013 to 29% by 2060. Despite a wide array of Hispanic cultures, we all love empanadas!
COCINA 54 consciously partnered with a logistics carrier that has a fleet of fuel- and energy-efficient vehicles to transport their products. COCINA 54 plans to strategically expand its distribution hubs over the next three years to shorten the distance products need to travel to market.
How we source sustainably: One of our key differentiators as a frozen brand is that our empanadas are made from scratch using 100% fresh vegetables and proteins. Unlike other frozen items that use canned bell peppers or pre-cooked meats, we use all fresh, local ingredients. Our product is all-natural and minimally processed, which in turn improves our carbon footprint. Our empanadas are made exactly as they are at home—we sauté our fresh produce and proteins with olive oil and form the empanadas—the only difference is we use much larger skillets. With our simplistic process, we conserve energy not only from our sourcing but throughout our production process, delivering a product that is healthier from a nutritional standpoint.
How we process and package sustainably: As a part of our sustainability plan, every year we look at what we can do better. Last year we realized we could reduce our packaging size and still fit our empanadas. This saved 10% of packaging material, generating less waste and packaging film usage.
How we distribute sustainably: Today, we work with one of the best logistics carriers whose fleet is among the youngest in the industry and uses the most fuel-efficient and sustainable equipment the market currently offers. Their diesel engines produce 60% to 99% fewer emissions than earlier versions of diesel engines. We currently have one distribution hub which increases the distance our empanadas have to travel to reach our 1000+ points of distribution. In the next three years, as we continue to increase our geographic footprint, we are carefully selecting new distribution hubs that will make it more efficient to transport our products and reduce our carbon emissions.
How we let customers know we’re practicing sustainability: We constantly communicate with our customers through social media that our products are made from scratch, explaining how we make our empanadas, and our customers can tell the difference. Our most common comment is “they taste homemade” and mainly because there are no shortcuts in our production process and, ironically, that saves energy.
COCINA 54 conveys their sustainability message to consumers through social media, emphasizing that their products are locally sourced and made from scratch.