Arizona entrepreneurs angle for a spot on Walmart shelves

Two Phoenix-area businesses are heading to Bentonville, Ark., to pitch their made-in-Arizona products to the world’s largest retailer.

They join more than 450 entrepreneurs from 46 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia who’ve been invited to Walmart headquarters this week to participate in the company’s Open Call event – an annual opportunity for local startups and entrepreneurs to pitch their products to Walmart buyers. Deals will be signed on the spot.

Ahssa Foods – a Mesa-based purveyor of gourmet, healthy and flavor-packed cooking sauces, is a quintessential American Dream story.

Owner Kay Weldon emigrated to the U.S. in 1973 from Korea, overcoming financial, language and educational barriers to raise a family and launch a business.

A proud grandmother, Weldon’s love of family comes through in her product. She notes that her son and daughter helped launch Ahssa, named after the Korean slang term for “awesome,” and the label used on all of her sauces was designed by her 9-year old grandson.

Now, she has the opportunity to share her product and passion with Walmart buyers and – hopefully – families across the country.

“My vision is to become nationally recognized as a compelling and delicious contender in the sauce and condiment market,” Weldon said. “I am grateful to Walmart for the amazing opportunity to attend this year’s Open Call. I moved here 45 years ago with little more than a skill, a dream and the drive to make it happen. Now, I’m one step closer to working alongside the largest company in the world. Stories like mine are what this event is all about.”

Joining Ahssa Foods is another Phoenix-based company with deep Arizona roots: GoodFibers LLC.

A 3rd-generation family business, GoodFibers hopes to land its wet wipe products on Walmart shelves. The company – founded in 1958 as Milyon, a global pioneer of nonwoven textile technology – today prides itself on being a one-stop, full-service provider of wet wipes for every use.

CEO Mauricio Menache knows a successful pitch could mean the deal of a lifetime.

“The retail landscape is often difficult to navigate and involves different buying groups for each category we play in,” said Menache. “Being able to meet all the buying options for our specific categories in one day, at the world’s largest retailer, can be game-changing for a family-owned business like ours.”

Attendees at this year’s Open Call could secure deals ranging from a handful of stores in a local market, to supplying hundreds or even thousands of stores, Sam’s Club locations and

In 2017, Wild Tonic – a kombucha brewer based in Cottonwood, Arizona – landed a Walmart deal at Open Call. Wild Tonic became available on the shelves of Walmart locations across Arizona and New Mexico.

Open Call is part of Walmart’s 10-year commitment to purchase an additional $250 billion worth of products made, sourced or grown in the U.S. Last year, Walmart spent $1.5 billion with Arizona suppliers, supporting more than 25,000 Arizona jobs.

Lorna Romero

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