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Going north of the border: Slick Rick’s gets help exporting spices to Canada

Slick Rick’s hopes to export a variety of spices, including it red spice, steak spice, black spice, garlic and herb and chili spice blends to Canada. One of the businesses owners will travel to Canada next month to explore the opportunities there.

NATCHEZ — Slick Rick’s, a small café on a side street in downtown Natchez, doesn’t look like an international company with the backing of the state’s top economic development agency.

But that’s because the gourmet sandwich shop is just a small piece of a much bigger pie.

Rick Simons, head chef, and his mother, Mary Ann Simons, operate the business daily but have their eyes on a bigger market in which to promote Slick Rick’s blended organic spices to the status of exporter in the spice industry.

Mary Ann said their seven different, blended, organic spices are sold in 15 states and they are currently working their way into chain stores such as Whole Foods.

Next month, the mother-son duo is taking another step in achieving their goal of becoming a major player in spice industry and growing their market even more. Mary Ann is heading to Canada on an international export mission partially funded by the Mississippi Development Authority.

“We are such a fortunate company to have stumbled across this,” Mary Ann said. “(The MDA) is phenomenal. We couldn’t do this without the MDA.”

During the week of Sept. 10-14, Mary Ann will travel to Montreal and Ontario to meet with interested buyers. Although Rick won’t be along for the trip, Mary Ann won’t be alone. Advisors and translators from the MDA will surround her, helping her with communication and marketing.

“Our message to companies is ‘You can be a player in the global market, too,’” MDA trade manager Vickie Watters said.

Watters explained the MDA has offered assistance for small businesses for years and now with more federal funding, MDA can help offset some of the financial burdens of expanding.

She said through federal grants, the MDA covers 50 percent of transportation, travel and consultants, while the clients are responsible for the other half.

Through MDA’s Step Program, small businesses get help with research, marketing and travel assistance.

“The Step Program provides companies in Mississippi ways to trade internationally and position those companies to enter the foreign market,” Watters said. “(Slick Rick’s Foods) is a great company to work with because (they) are open to learning and open-minded to trading internationally.”

Watters said the MDA helps companies with details such as labeling and packaging. She said different countries have unique regulations.

When Mary Ann and Rick first decided to go into the spice business, they never planned to be in the exporting business, and it simply all started with a postcard.

“In 2009, I got a postcard in the mail addressed to me titled “Food as a Business,” she said. “ I don’t know how I got it.”

The postcard was an invitation to a workshop at Mississippi State University in Starkville on how to market and sell food products.

Mary Ann said she decided to go out of curiosity, but she didn’t count on how helpful it would be or the doors it would open.

She said one part of the seminar was on packaging and she didn’t think much about it at the time when the person giving a presentation at the workshop recommended a particular packaging company.

“I just scribbled its name on a sheet of paper,” Mary Ann said.

After the trip to Starkville, she said she forgot about what she wrote down. Later when she started looking at packaging companies, she spent months doing research and comparing her options. When she finally decided on one, she happened to remember her trip to Starkville.

She turned to the page where she wrote down the package company’s name and there it was — the exact company she had spent months researching.

“If would have listened, I wouldn’t have had to do all that digging,” Mary Ann said.

The business owes much of its success to MDA, Mary Ann said. When they first started out, Mary Ann and Rick were thinking on a much smaller scale.

Going through the Step Program helped them see the possibilities of becoming larger.

“We have something unique to Mississippi and the U.S.,” Mary Ann said. “The MDA has been there with us the whole way.

“They believe in us and know we have a product that is in demand. They want us to be a successful market.”