Every month, hundreds of boxes packed with Louisiana-made sauces, rubs, sweet treats, baking mixes, snacks, coffee and more ship to Cajun Crate subscribers.
As the crates are “unboxed” and contents shared with others, local companies are finding new loyal customers.
Tara Guidry met husband Brett Guidry as a student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and decided to stay. Yet family stretched from their hometowns of Bossier City and Houma to Arkansas, Tennessee, California and Alaska, and they frequently found themselves sending off Cajun care packages.
“We were constantly having to send things like Camellia red beans, Community Coffee and Cajun Power Sauce to our family members,” Tara Guidry said. “We were like, man, if only there was a subscription that we could just sign them up for that would take care of it for us.”
A Kickstarter campaign and $21,000 later, Cajun Crate was officially born in 2016.
Initially, Guidry said, she was concerned about finding enough variety for the monthly subscription box, centered entirely on Louisiana food. But it’s rare they’ll repeat a product, even if they pull from the same brand.
“Once we got enough exposure, people started reaching out to us,” she said. “There are so many Cajun brands out there or things made in Louisiana. The possibilities are endless, and so people are constantly reaching out.”
As Guidry learns about new brands from customers, other vendors or perusing grocery store shelves, her work begins.
“I’ll pick out products that go around that month’s theme, and then I’ll call those vendors and make individual deals with them to get those products in the box,” she said. “Then a couple days of the month are spent picking up products, securing 300-plus of whatever product I’m getting.”
Then it’s on to bubble wrapping, packing and shipping. By the 15th of each month, 200-500 boxes go out to fans of Louisiana products — like Arizona resident Monica Goodwin, who stumbled upon Cajun Crate shortly after its debut and has subscribed ever since.
“I’ve always had an affinity for Southern food and specifically Louisiana food,” said the Kansas City, Missouri, native. “I saw the opportunity to get all of the above and try new products I might not ever known about.”
Goodwin said she doesn’t quite remember how she came across the company, but the service has received a lot of attention since its launch.
It’s been featured by Buzzfeed articles with the titles “22 Things That’ll Completely Change How You Make Dinner” and “17 Cool New Subscription Boxes That’ll Bring Joy to Your Life.”
Through Cajun Crate, Goodwin discovered 2 Sisters’ Salsa. Now, she said, she follows the Plaucheville company’s website and reorders often.
“My favorite is 2 Sisters' Salsa; it is so good,” she said.
Creating a community
Although 2 Sisters’ Salsa allows customers to order on its website and is available in 22 states, Guidry found many of the small businesses she worked with wanted to feature their products online but didn’t have the capacity, time or know-how.
“A lot of the people we work with, it’s not their full-time job,” she said. “So I say, 'I can build your website. Or if you already have a website, I can handle all your fulfillment for you.'
“So now we’re not only doing fulfillment for Cajun Crate, we’re also inventorying other people’s products and we’re shipping for them.”
In addition to providing fulfillment, customers can order individual products through the Cajun Crate website. Guidry estimated she ships 30-40 individual packages a day and said about 75 percent of Cajun Crate’s subscribers live out of state, including many Louisiana ex-pats.
“They’ll message me and say, 'Thanks for coming up with your product. We can’t find this stuff anywhere else,' ” Guidry said.
Although she works hard to find and feature small and little-known Cajun companies, staples that locals might take for granted are the most requested.
“I probably ship 200 bags of Camellia red beans a month,” she said. “We’re trying to bring exposure to all the big name brands — Tabasco, Camellia, Community Coffee — but more so the smaller brands that you might have never heard of,” she said.
'We're all in it together'
One of those under-the-radar brands is Lone Pine-based Bulldog Pepper Jelly.
The company’s seasonal cranberry pecan pepper jelly was among the offerings in November’s “Holiday Table” crate, along with Cajun Spoon brown gravy mix, Zatarain’s Creole Injector marinade and honey butter cornbread mix from Calhoun Bend Mill.
Owner Kim White said Guidry has provided so much more than an avenue for exposure.
White said when she decided to grow from a cottage business making hundreds of jars of jelly to manufacturing thousands of jars, Guidry was one of her first calls for advice.
Guidry built and manages the Bulldog Pepper Jelly website, consults on its social media strategy and handles fulfillment for the company’s custom gift box orders.
“She’s amazing; I’ve never seen anyone like that,” White said. “She’s juggling so many things. I don’t know how she does it. I really don’t.”
In addition to developing personal relationships with vendors across the state, personally picking up products, packing and shipping, Guidry also has 3-year-old and 1-month-old sons in the mix.
“Tara’s the most loving, giving, networking; she’s just the most amazing businesswoman to me,” White said. “She mentored me, and I’m 59 years old. She was a godsend, for sure, and sells a heck of a lot of jelly for us.”
Said Guidry: “We’re all in it together.”