Alec Cousins first came to Peru on holiday in 1999. “I was living in London, running a fast-growing organic food business and all I knew about Peru were tales of lost cities and Paddington bear,” says Cousins. The following story, told by Cousins in first person, explains how his brand CuzCo Foods came to be.
This trip was an eye-opener. First impressions of Lima, etched in my mind, include the smell of sizzling garlic and seafood, hot afternoons and clacking typewriters, odd architecture, crazy driving and a lot of sitting around. I was naturally drawn to the produce markets and stunned at the abundance of vegetables, fish, herbs, and roots, many of which I had never seen before.
How did I not know that Peru was the birthplace of the tomato, potato and probably chili? I loved going to restaurants to try ceviche, rocoto relleno, and choros al la chalaca.
The dance of flavors from these dishes, the balance of acidity and texture, all delivered in a way that was new and exciting, captivated me.
Ten years later, I returned to Peru after selling my UK business. I started to work closely with the Instituto de la Papa to transform Andean native potatoes into delicious batch-cooked chips under a new brand ‘Viva La Papa!’”
After a successful launch and sales to US and Europe, I decided to branch out and start a new business, CuzCo Foods. The fairly basic aim was, and still is, to hunt down the best quality ingredients and create delicious, sustainable, long shelf life products for export around the world.
It’s true that Paqu Jaya has been described as the Peruvian sriracha, but we think our sauce is far more complex: a blend of fragrant chilies, fresh fruit, and no sugar or gums.
Paqu Jaya is sold in 16.5oz and 7oz bottles in Wong, Britt, and plenty of independent stores around Peru. It can also be found in Gaston Acurio’s ‘La Mar’ and Papachos, as well as Belmond, Inkaterra and W Hotels. We are incredibly proud of exports to leading stores in California (Draegers, Mollie Stones, Gelsons, Bristol Farms, Monsieur Marcel… the list keeps growing), Texas (Central Market, Specs and Market Street), and New York (Zabars, Kalustyans, Heatonist) where we have been met with love and enthusiasm.
Canada, UK, and Colombia are all important destinations and it is wonderful to see how our brands and Peruvian food, in general, has been embraced. We are happy to break a ‘tradition’ of exporting raw ingredients, and instead export products with added value overseas since we do everything in Peru.
This allows us to sell nationally but also to create jobs and prosperity beyond the local supply of raw material. The future, we believe, is to add value right here, creating highly desirable products (like the Paqu Jaya) tailored for local and international markets.
April 14, 2020 update: CuzCo Foods now makes it easy for you to get your hands on their products, especially during this time of social isolation. Request your products via WhatsApp and pay through bank transfer or Yape. Below are the details:
Cover photos: CuzCo Foods
This article has been updated from its original publication on April 19, 2018.
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