Top 40 Under 40
Angela Santiago, 39: Little Potatoes, big dreams
CATHRYN ATKINSON, Globe and Mail Update
Published Wednesday, Apr. 27, 2011 5:01PM EDT
Angela Santiago was finishing up her BA at the University of Alberta when she got the potato bug. Now the CEO of The Little Potato Company in Edmonton, Ms. Santiago found the inspiration for her business future close to home.
Her serial entrepreneur father, Jacob Van der Schaaf, had grown up in the Netherlands with a love of agriculture. He perceived a niche for the high-quality produce grown by his father – specifically potatoes – and in 1996 decided to plant a field and see whether there would be any interest in the product.
“He convinced me to help him market small potatoes – one acre’s worth – harvest it by hand, wash it in the bath, and we delivered them to restaurants. Then the Banff Springs Hotel showed an interest in it,” said Ms. Santiago.
Next year, they grew a few more acres and approached a retail company. An interview took place in the stairwell at the company as the pair arrived to talk about being a potential supplier.
“We didn’t even get in the office. … After just a few minutes, the company said they would take everything we had,” Ms. Santiago said. “With Little Potatoes, sales is never an issue; it’s the growing of enough product. Timing was everything.”
The Little Potato Company is now a multimillion-dollar company, with $32-million in annual sales – almost doubling every year since starting – with 5 to 8 per cent of sales currently going to the United States.
Ultimately, says Ms. Santiago, the company speaks to consumers’ need to buy nourishing, convenient food at a good price.
“There is a huge trend to eating more healthily but we still want it quick,” she said, adding the potatoes are “healthy, the skin is still on, you don’t have to peel them, you throw them in a pot.”
Another aspect of the product she thinks appeals to consumers is the act of feeding their families: “We still want to participate in our meal making.”
Ms. Santiago is married to a husband she says has been very involved in the home and supportive of the business, and they have four children.
A recent health scare with breast cancer has caused her to review her priorities, and Ms. Santiago says she was able to take advantage of “the great team at Little Potato” for support.
The disease was caught early, and Ms. Santiago says she sees the episode as a blessing.
“You figure out on your own what you need to have to balance your personal and work lives, or the universe will tell you.”
She is on leave for a little longer, spending time with her children and travelling. But she also has her eyes on future plans for Little Potato, with plans to hit $100-million in sales, with the majority of sales being in the United States.
“I love what I do and the people we work with. I love coming to work. I think, ‘What’s more humbling than being able to create food?’” she said.