Just as some people won’t take “no” for an answer, April Field doesn’t let business roadblocks stop her. She just drives around them.
Field is the founder of The Curvy Italian, a San Diego-based tomato sauce business that in less than two post-pandemic years has gone from being sold at a single produce stand in a section of the city’s Little Italy Mercado to being sold nationally.
“During the pandemic, I decided to look at myself and what I wanted to do,” the New Jersey native says. “So I sat on the couch and meditated, and then it hit me like a download.” As a second-generation Italian-American she would make tomato sauce the way her family made tomato sauce and the way she made it when entertaining friends. Using only San Marzano tomatoes, of course.
“So I started doing the business research, running the numbers, working on making the recipe that I got from mom, doubling and tripling the amount,” she said. An observant friend suggested she call her brand “The Curvy Italian.” And so the product was born. Next came the eternal marketing question – where and how to sell it?
At first, Field didn’t appear to qualify to have a stand at the Mercado, so she gave them her sales pitch. “And two days later I got a call that they would let me have one,” she said, “This was Jan. 15, 2022.” But it wasn’t an ideal location. “I got to know a pasta seller who had a better location, and we started cross-marketing each other’s project.”
Meanwhile, Field was adjusting her price. She knew she wanted to appeal to people “who wanted high quality and a healthy project.” Her opening price was $13 for a 17-ounce jar, but she decided $15 was necessary to give her the right margin. Rather than depressing sales, it possibly increased them.
But still she wasn’t meeting her expectations selling only in the farmer’s market space. Plus she wanted to expand Curvy Italian line beyond her introductory product – marinara sauce. Getting into a local retail store – The Market by Buon Appetito – was a step forward, but health rules wouldn’t let her meet the tighter regulations for producing a meat sauce in her commercial kitchen. “I was putting too much expectation in producing a meat sauce,” she said. While she temporarily put that project on the back burner, Field decided to produce a spicy “Sassy” tomato sauce.
She made another pivot – a favorite word of Field – to solve the meat sauce conundrum. “Rather than investing in a kitchen that would meet health department standards, I decided to look into co-packing,” she said, explaining “co-packing” as seeking out a production partner, something common in private-label products.
Field found someone who knew someone, and the first thing she knew she was on a plane cross country to meet with Erie Bone Broth, a co-packer located in Cleveland. “The idea was that they could make all my sauces, while I could concentrate on sales,” she says. At first, the sauces didn’t taste the same as they did in San Diego or her mother’s kitchen in New Jersey – a major bummer.
“I came out again in March, and we started from scratch,” she says. “Two days later, the sauces tasted exactly like what I had in my mind, and they were preservative free. We thought at first we would be required to add a preservative, but the natural acidity level allowed us to be preservative-free.”
Was Field going to have to ship the sauces back to San Diego to ship them to consumers who would order them from the Curvy Italian website? “I was waiting for the right opportunity, and I found a fulfillment house nearby in Pennsylvania that does all the shipping.”
Now, rather than expanding her product line immediately, Field says, “My vision is to go into high-end commercial national markets as well as into national hospitality markets. I can’t say who just yet, but I’ve had some conversations.” And if she runs into a roadblock there, Field will undoubtedly find a way to pivot around it.
You can buy three varieties of The Curvy Italian marinara sauce – Chunky Marinara, Sassy Sauce, Meat Sauce – on the company’s website. The company ships nationwide, to individual customers as well as wholesale to restaurants and hotels.