Casablanca Foods looked to C2FO to help build cash flow as demand for affordable home cooking products surged during the coronavirus pandemic.
When New York City-based Casablanca Foods was officially incorporated in 2010, the world was on the cusp of a food revolution.
Words like “local” “organic” and “all-natural” had flooded the grocery retail market and the restaurant industry. In addition, ethnic spices and herbs — traditionally staples in many cultural cuisines around the world for centuries — were suddenly deemed trendy.
Over the last decade, Casablanca Foods, a small, family-run business led by Fouad Kallamni, has brought the flavors of Morocco’s souks to the masses through the company’s flagship brand, Mina.
Ten years after the first wave of the “food movement,” many people consider themselves amateur chefs, with Mina’s array of tasty, affordable and authentic products serving as a leading choice for consumers looking to spice up their home cooking.
Restaurant closures during COVID-19 have spawned a new generation of home cooks, heightening the demand for the company’s assortment of harissa, tagine and shakshuka sauces.
Kallamni, who is Casablanca Foods’ co-founder and partner, said the recent uptick in demand for affordable, high-quality ingredients has led the business to grow 50% over the last few months.
However, growing pains often accompany sudden revenue growth. To meet demand for more product, the company needed to free up considerable cash tied up in accounts receivable. With the help of Costco’s Early Payment Program through C2FO, Casablanca Foods has invested the funds it has received into production costs and filling more inventory to meet demand.
Kallamni heard about C2FO from Costco’s onboarding paperwork and reached out in mid-April to Cody Kever, a Kansas City-based supplier relationship manager for C2FO.
“Fouad is located in the heart of NYC. He had a lot to think about with the pandemic threatening to disrupt his business,” Kever said. “However, he still had the acumen to identify C2FO as a company that could provide Casablanca Foods debt-free funds quickly to help mitigate potential cash flow risks.”
The ketchup of Morocco
The origins of the Mina brand have been in the making for generations. Kallamni’s mother Mina, the family’s matriarch and the brand’s namesake, was born and raised in Casablanca.
As the eldest girl in a family of 11 siblings, Mina was tasked with cooking for the family and quickly picked up the nuances of traditional Moroccan recipes from her mother and grandmother.
After mastering Moroccan cooking as a teenager, Mina won a scholarship to train as a chef in Paris for a year. Mina moved back to Morocco, got married and immigrated to New York City in 1967.
“When my parents moved to New York, my mother started a catering business,” Kallamni said. “But when I say catering, I don’t mean big parties or weddings — she catered to the ‘who’s who’ of New York society. She was a sought-after chef for small, high-end dinner parties throughout the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s.”
Mina’s clients were high-end wealthy socialites and businesspeople, ranging from Jackie Kennedy Onassis to the Koch brothers.
Like his mother, Kallamni and his four siblings grew up in the kitchen. Just as those sacred Moroccan recipes were handed down from Mina’s grandmother to her, Kallamni and his siblings inherited them from his mother.
“When my mother retired from cooking professionally in 2010, we wanted to keep that legacy alive by introducing the brand named after her with all of her recipes,” Kallamni said.
With a background in marketing and branding from his previous ventures, he recognized a void in the U.S. market for Moroccan cuisine. He and his mother wanted to introduce those flavors to the masses.
“Harissa is like the ketchup of Morocco — it’s like chutney in India or sriracha in Southeast Asia. It’s our national condiment,” Kallamni said. “The whole idea behind the brand was to create user-friendly and approachable products with traditional, authentic and clean ingredients.”
Growth during the pandemic
The revival of traditional Moroccan condiments like harissa in modern American and other cuisines put Mina on the fast-track to success.
“Over the last 10 years, everybody’s been about healthy, non-GMO gluten-free lifestyles as we’ve become more aware about what’s in our food and how it’s processed. Moroccan cuisine falls under a health-conscious Mediterranean diet with on-trend ingredients like turmeric, ginger and garlic.” Kallamni said. “On top of that, you have all these people who are at-home chefs now. They’ve got the time to cook and they’re tired of the norm, so they’re experimenting with and exploring international cuisine.”
That experimentation is only expected to grow. In a recent survey, 54% of respondents said they cook more than before the pandemic and 75% said they have become more confident in the kitchen.
Even after life rebounds, cooking at home will be the most cost-effective way to eat and share meals with family.
“The situation has provided a good amount of growth for us. This has been a blessing in disguise. We’ve been so fortunate because our production facilities in Pennsylvania and Morocco have been up and running,” Kallamni said. “On the flip side, it’s been great for them to have us because we were able to keep them busy. We’re able to do our part for the supply chain by keeping them busy and they do their part by producing for us.”
Using C2FO to grow
Kallamni first accelerated payment with Costco in mid-March.
“It was a great resource because we already had good terms with Costco, but just being able to pull those funds early and put them back into inventory for our growing orders was very helpful,” he said.
Casablanca Foods put that working capital back into production, investing it back into the products to supply customers like Costco.
“When I first heard about C2FO, I did think it was too good to be true,” Kallamni said. “But it made sense. These retailers have the cash to pay early and if they can save those incremental amounts over time, they’re saving a lot of money.”
Kallamni recognizes the world is at a pivotal moment in how we view food and our relationship with home cooking, as meals at home become the norm.
“Moroccan culture is all about hospitality, family and eating together. The whole family revolves around the meal and the dinner table. And we see that happening a lot more now with our current situation,” Kallamni said.
Kallamni said he would absolutely continue to use C2FO’s platform as the company continues to grow.
“It’s such an amazing platform.” Kallamni said. “ We were already growing, but this moment, this era of stay-at-home has spurred that growth even further.”