Santa Maura Spice & Garlic: Supplying a Worldwide Range of Quality Products

Santa Maura Spice & Garlic (Santa Maura) specializes in the import and distribution of dried chilies, spices, grains and dried fruit, serving one of the chief food sectors in the U.S. “We cater to the Latin foods industry, which is the third largest in the country,” explains John Rusconi, cofounder and president of Santa Maura. The Los Angeles-based corporation offers a wide range of products, handling over 2 million pounds of spices and chilies at any given time in its warehouse, which stocks items imported from all over the globe. All of its activity is backed by a commitment to quality service, support and serving each customer’s specific needs.

Founded in 1994 by Rusconi and his partner Moises Cruz, Santa Maura has been doing business for nearly two decades. Rusconi has over 35 years of industry experience with a background in farming and agricultural business. “This helps me understand the whole process of where products start, from the seed in the ground,” shares Rusconi. “Knowing firsthand how difficult farming is helps us understand what our suppliers go through. We have great respect for them.”

Though headquartered in Southern California, Santa Maura serves the entire nation coast to coast, and even ships to Canada and Australia. Santa Maura has a 75,000-square foot, nine-bay loading facility at its Los Angeles home base and has also recently added another 18,000-square foot facility at the same location to accommodate its expanding retail lines. The majority of the company’s inventory comes from 15 distribution warehouses in Mexico, but also from Central and South America, India and China.

This range is possible thanks to 25 highly capable, multilingual employees. “We have a good array of personalities here,” describes Rusconi. “We are able to communicate with a diverse supplier base. I speak fluent Spanish myself. My general manager, Jeff Vadukul, speaks Hindi, and after 15years with the company he does OK with Spanish, too.”

Maintaining Relationships

Despite Santa Maura’s massive geographical footprint, the company strives to build direct, personal relationships with each of its suppliers. “We work to build a good rapport with our suppliers; we treat them like part of the family,” stresses Rusconi. “Personal relationships are important. We’ve traveled overseas to meet face to face with our suppliers, some of which we’ve dealt with for the last 19 years.”

Suppliers and customers have allowed the company to flourish; in turn Santa Maura highly values and appreciates its business partners. “Although we’re growing by a couple million a year we’re not looking to grow too much,” explains Rusconi. “We want to maintain control and don’t want to lose sight of these important relationships.”

Santa Maura’s import, export and distribution business is growing and well diversified thanks to these longstanding relationships with processors and manufacturers throughout the world. The company has worked to build its credibility in domestic and international markets through its commitment to quality, contract fulfillment and shipping on a timely basis.

The wholesale company also works to build its customer rapport. “Although we’re always trying to source new customers, we want our current ones to grow with us,” details Rusconi. “It’s our loyal customer base that has kept us in business.” Santa Maura generates most of its business through word-of-mouth and customer referrals.

Stocking a Huge Variety

Operating as an import wholesale company, Santa Maura mainly sells products to repackers and distributors, but also does business with restaurants, as well as smaller specialty stores. “We work with anyone who’s into spices – which is just about every restaurant and consumer out there,” shares Rusconi. Whatever the consumer needs, Santa Maura either has it in stock or can source it. In addition, Santa Maura can provide sterilizing services per client requirements, and will provide a Letter of Guarantee for assurance.

If the client is a heat seeker, Santa Maura can meet their demands, stocking over 50 kinds of dried chilies, including ancho, habanero, cayenne, chipotle, ghost chili and jalapeño. The company offers a vast array of whole and ground spices, including allspice, turmeric, cumin and paprika. Santa Maura also stocks a year-round supply of fresh garlic, dried fruits, nuts and a line of Mexican specialty products, including abuelita chocolate, epasote, grenetina, mole paste, cuitlacoche, churro chile and much, much more. All of the company’s products pass FDA, USDA and customs requirements, along with kosher certifications, and are constantly evaluated for quality and reliability throughout the year.

Rusconi says the company’s next venture is expanding its retail line. “We are about to launch a honey chipotle-flavored BBQ sauce with our own blend of spices,” details Rusconi. “We also have our own proprietary mix for the popular Mexican Michelada beer.” Michelada is a beer with spices, chili and citrus. Santa Maura sells the ingredients to one of its customers, which has a distribution deal with Budweiser. The Michelada is becoming a very popular drink, especially on the West Coast. The company also hopes to launch a new line of spices under the name Paradise Spice in the coming years. Rusconi’s son Nico, a business major, will be in charge of this project, which includes paradisespicefoods.com, Micheladas.com and BubbaQsauce (BubbaQs.com).

Santa Maura continues to grow; the company averages a $1 million to $2 million increase each year, despite the recession. The company has relied on its loyal customers and longtime relationships with suppliers and packers to withstand the economic downturn.

“You have to be careful about who you do business with,” reveals Rusconi. “A lot of our competition has gone out of business because they worked with the wrong people.” With operations that are growing and well diversified, Santa Maura Spice & Garlic continues to be a leader in its industry by focusing on specialized products and developing long-term relationships with both domestic and international partners.