Fresh and Authentic Empanada Brand Finds Local Supplier in ePac Austin

Cocina 54 is a made-from-scratch empanada company run by two Argentines that know authentic empanadas. 

After moving to the states from Argentina, founder and CMO, Cecilia Panichelli and her husband, Federico Carrillo, couldn’t find an authentic and fresh empanada option anywhere. They decided to launch Cocina 54, named after their area code in Argentina, to share this part of their culture in their new home.

“It was our go-to meal during the week in Argentina. We would eat them at our offices, at work, at birthday parties. We ate them growing up. But we couldn’t find good ones here in the U.S. so we started making our own on the weekends and freezing them to eat during the week,” said Cecilia Panichelli. 

Panichelli says that Cocina 54’s empanadas are all made from scratch using fresh vegetables, antibiotic-free meats, and are naturally gluten-free. The company sells four varieties in classic Argentine flavors.

A Delicious Start

In the beginning, Panichelli made her empanadas only for family and friends, but she soon discovered that everybody loved them and wanted more.

“Everyone said ‘they are so good, and so convenient,’” said Panichelli.

But before officially launching in 2016, Panichelli did some research into what consumers were looking for. She found that consumers are always looking for healthy and convenient meals and many struggled to find tasty gluten-free options.

 “We found that consumers were looking for all this stuff but with all the taste and convenience to fit into their busy lifestyle. That was my ‘aha moment,” said Panichelli. “Consumers want taste, convenience, and an authentic brand. Well, this is what we are going to launch. But with better ingredients than our competitors.” 

Keeping It Local 

Originally, the duo was packing the empanadas in single-serve clear bags with sticker labels. They then moved to 2-pack frozen food packaging containers, but as the brand evolved, decided to move back to a single-serve format. As the company grew, the team began to look for a packaging partner that could help the start-up company scale. 

Cocina 54’s packaging before partnering with ePac.

The Cocina 54 team was connected to ePac through Naturally Austin, an organization that helps the natural CPG industry in the Austin area by building a collaborative community. 

“When you first launch, there are so many expenses,” said Panichelli. “Using a local digital printing company (ePac) that produced such good quality packages was a great opportunity for us to do some short runs when we were first starting. The short runs were helpful because we had changes along the way, and digital printing allows you to make changes without paying thousands of dollars in inventory.” 

With digital printing, you can make changes on the fly, and run as many SKUs as you want since there are never any plates to set up.

“Having that flexibility was huge for us. And ePac was super accommodating with low minimum runs. This helped us with new product development, and allowed us to try out new designs,” said Panichelli. 

Making Frozen Food Packaging Pop

With ePac, Cocina 54 also found a partner to guide them through the process of choosing the best types of frozen food packaging for empanadas.

“ePac made sure we had the proper material to maintain the integrity of the empanadas in the freezer,” said Panichelli. “They proposed what type of film we should use to avoid freezer burn.” 

Cocina 54 knew that only the right empanada frozen food packaging design could share their culture and brand story.

“We wanted to share our story and we wanted to use a certain type of art from Argentina called Filete Porteño. It was important that the artwork and flavor were that of Buenos Aires, which was part of the story we were trying to share all along,” said Panichelli. 

A great package design, with photo-quality graphics, is key for start-up brands to get noticed on busy store shelves.  

“Package design is very important, especially for a company of our size,” continued Panichelli. “It is very key to have the design capture attention… We get a lot of positive feedback on the package.” 

Building a Brand

Today Cocina 54 is a national brand and is available in 250 HEB stores, Central Market, Wegmans, 200 Walmart’s around the country, and Amazon. 

Partnering with a local custom flexible packaging supplier that utilizes cutting-edge digital printing technology has helped the company scale, produce a quality package, and portray the right design to best showcase the Argentine culture that is so important to the brand. 

And unlike traditional printers that require high order minimums and costly plates to set up for each SKU, digital printing allows brands to order on an as-needed basis and with a fast turnaround. 

“ePac’s abilities as a local company, with low minimum runs, really caters to start-up companies like ours. Traditional suppliers are tone-deaf to start-up needs of low minimum orders, short runs, and a fast turnaround. Plates are so much more complicated, and so much more expensive…. ePac’s turnaround is very fast,” said Panichelli.

Curious about how ePac and digital printing can help you scale your small or start-up company? Call us today or request a free quote