A recipe for success
Patricia Springer knew that if she wanted her new line of Brazilian seasonings to taste like the mixes her mother, Iara Lara, cooked with, she needed to use fresh garlic.
Using potent garlic paste makes Perfeito Foods, which Springer launched in Auburn, New York in 2020, stand out. But it also introduces questions of shelf stability and food safety. Springer said she didn’t want to use granulated garlic or garlic powder because that would cause her mother's recipe to “lose its magic."
With the help of the Cornell Food Venture Center (CFVC) and the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture (COE), she was able to produce a shelf-stable product with fresh garlic that’s proven to be such a smash hit that Wegmans will soon begin stocking two varieties of Springer’s seasonings at more than 100 of its largest stores across the East Coast – the first major retail partner in the company’s young history.
To get to where Perfeito is today, Springer first met with CFVC Associate Director Bruno Xavier, who guided her through a water activity test and shelf-life studies. Water activity refers to the amount of “free” water in a food product that is available to support microbial growth, leading to spoilage. Fresh produce, such as garlic, typically has high levels of water activity.
How Cornell helped
It took a year and a half to complete the studies, including a microbial challenge study and a year-long shelf-life study to prove that the salt in her seasoning blends preserved the garlic without any added preservatives.
After receiving scheduled processes for her recipes, Springer began producing her first commercial batches at the CFVC Pilot Plant. She credits Pilot Plant manager Roger Morse and his team with helping her scale up her recipes and introducing her to ingredient suppliers. The COE helped connect Springer to local farmers and other suppliers and provided guidance as she eventually expanded out of the Pilot Plant and into her own production facility in Auburn, which opened at the end of 2021.
“I had the whole team holding my hand,” she said.
Prior to launching Perfeito – Portuguese for “perfect” – Springer built a nearly 30-year career in sales and operations in the biotech and telecom industries. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, Springer found herself cooking at home more, rekindling her love of her mother's cooking while growing up in Brazil - especially Lara's seasonings.
Lara, an accomplished cook in her right, used to make large batches of the garlicky seasoning mix, now branded as Perfeito No. 1. Like many family recipes, the recipe for the seasoning blend wasn’t written down. Still, Lara and Springer were able to build a recipe for the original mix and develop three other blends designed to accompany different types of meats. Blend No. 1 is made for red meat; No. 2 for chicken, turkey, and other poultry, No. 3 for fish and seafood, and No. 4 for pork, lamb and wild game. Wegmans will be stocking the No. 1 and No. 2 blends.
Lara's face is now Perfeito’s logo, gracing each jar and pouch that Springer makes.
Building the business
Springer said she’s always wanted to start her own business and after sending out samples of her seasonings to around 100 people and getting rave reviews, she knew she had a winner on her hands. Still, the process of going from home recipe to commercially available product can be intimidating and without prior food manufacturing experience, Springer said the help she received from the CFVC and COE was instrumental in making her dream come to fruition.
“If I didn’t have Bruno (Xavier) helping, I probably would not have done it,” she said.
While Springer can revel in her company’s early success, she knows there is still work to be done. Knowing that Brazilian cuisine is not a common sight in Upstate New York, Springer frequently travels to different stores and festivals, offering samples to curious shoppers. She’s been in talks with other large supermarkets to carry her products. In the future, she hopes to partner with local meat producers to develop a line of pre-seasoned meat products.
“I feel very happy seeing this all happening,” she said.
Jacob Pucci is the marketing and communications coordinator for the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech.
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