How The Pandemic Increased Our Sales By 200%

Published: October 11th, 2020
Scott Unkefer
Founder, Just Panela LLC
Just Panela LLC
from Boulder, Colorado, USA
started June 2015
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Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

Hello, I’m Scott Unkefer - I started Just Panela, now, about 7 years ago. We purchase (from our partner farm), package, and export (from Colombia) and Import (now too) United States, Canada, and Asia, and Australia our 1lb, 5lb, bulk ingredient, and individual serving size sachets of ‘panela’ cane sugar. Panela is 100% unprocessed, unrefined, artisanal, and certified organic sugarcane.

Our core competency and primary market is retail/ customer (I hate the word ‘consumer’) packaging of Panela. It is by far the hardest ‘powder’ type substance on the planet to package due to its characteristics. Our motto is “terrible for machine consumption, great for human consumption”. As it is by far the healthiest form of sugar cane on the planet as it is 100% unprocessed, unrefined, and organic.

Flagship product? As an ingredient, it’s really a question of “flagship application” as far as what food and beverages it’s best in. The current answer is this, but the funniest part about Just Panela® is that we have end users innovating with it and telling us what they want to do with it all the time:


Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?

We’ve been growing, internationalizing, and professionalizing, I guess, is the term. We’ve done very well through this pandemic because our primary market, still, is natural foods/groceries. With restaurants closed, buying at WholeFoods and the like is up 200%. Booze sales are up in our category (Primarily Rum) 31.7% as well. And then we’re being used more and more in baked goods, chocolate, kombucha, and many other unique things like CBD or THC sweeteners.

Don’t sell something you don’t have. Either the product doesn’t exist or you are behind on your supply chain, assembly, manufacturing of it.

Internationalizing- Just Panela® has expanded to Canada and Asia- Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Japan. This has been a pure chicken and egg problem. With the Asia partners, their culture shines through where we are/ were covering every detail before getting any on-hand inventory landed there. Which has made me sometimes want to shake their heads. That “dude if you had product on the ground I promise you it would magically move. You can be in the deep end unless you jump off the jumping board. I just made that analogy, and like it.

On the Canada side, it’s gone the other way where we just shipped quite a bit of product before crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s to find that the partner, and us, didn’t really know how to start moving it so we were thrown in the fire on that. Not to mention the shape in which it arrived. This pandemic has created utter chaos in the entire logistics/ trucking industry. The amount of product damage has been horrific. And the problem with that is, is that all the buyer sees is a Just Panela® product in a terrible condition and they get mad at us. Per below:


And on the “professionalizing”, we’re just doing a ton of food safety work that BIG food/ beverage/ flavor companies need and want to bring in Just Panela®.

  • The Pandemic has increased our velocity by about 200%
  • Because we sell to the Whole Foods and nationwide to hundreds of Natural Foods, Gourmet, Independent retail
  • As well as because we’ve got tons of distillers making primarily Rum with it and booze is up 31.7%
  • We’ve been adding ‘regional’ salespeople
  • We really are the ‘proctor and gamble’ of Panela and globally. We, Just Panela® positioned for global consumption more and before anyone else and thus the Colombian Panelero industry owes us.

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

Your Supply chain takes at least twice as long as you think it does to actually get to fulfillment to the customer or buyer. Whoever it is.

AND, Shipping and Logistics is a perfect nightmare and will consume hours of worry and hours of working time in your life. And in this Pandemic the entire industry of it is, I’d liken it to, pandemonium.

AND, good fulfillment people/ places are at best 20% of them. At least for you and exactly what you do. The other 80% of them aren’t really fashioned for your particular needs. And at times they’ll take you on and totally screw it up and when they do, it poses a real risk to your business.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

  • We’re working on a bottled beverage product.
  • I’m excited about going totally global. Cracking open Europe, Asia, and the Middle East

Have you read any good books in the last year?

Wish I could say more about this. Been totally failing on this. I think I’ve been reading Imagica from Clive Barker for 1 year now. I need to stop reading the news entirely and just float away into books.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

Don’t sell something you don’t have. Either the product doesn’t exist or you are behind on your supply chain, assembly, manufacturing of it.

Really define things. Both with your employees, as far as job definition and expectations. And with your buyers and distributors.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Sales professionals

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!