Chileans are among the world’s biggest bread consumers. They buy fresh-baked bread daily, with the favourite being the crispy marraqueta — a baguette-style loaf shaped into four separable rolls. It’s no surprise then that bread is a main staple for people experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity.
Bringing together those who have the means to buy bread daily with those who do not was the inspiration for SocialPan, a mission-driven, ‘solidarity’ business launched in January 2020 by Marcela Martínez and her husband, Francisco Ríos, in Concepción, Chile, using their own capital. However, it was Martínez’s ability to quickly pivot to an online strategy mere months after launching amid a global pandemic that earned her a grant from Visa She’s Next and The Scotiabank Women Initiative (SWI) in Chile.
Essentially, SocialPan’s business model calls for regular paying customers to buy quality bread — marraqueta, hallullas (a thick flat bread), sliced sandwich bread, and more — at competitive prices, thereby subsidizing the cost for low-income customers, who, once registered with the bakery using their social assistance card, pay a lower price. For example, currently the regular price for French bread is CLP1.890 (C$3.15) and the subsidized price is CLP1.390 (C$2.30). Customers also can opt to make donations of kilos of bread to SocialPan’s Panera Solidaria (Solidarity Breadbasket), which is distributed to soup kitchens in Concepción.
“Today, it is necessary for companies to go beyond just a commercial exchange,” Martínez says. “We believe that creating a company can provide us with a good livelihood while offering consumers a place where their purchase can make a positive impact.”
In early 2020 as COVID-19 spread around the world, Chile, like most countries, put strict protocols in place for in-person shopping. At that time SocialPan realized it had to move to an e-commerce strategy if the business was to remain viable, and quickly launched a website to reach their full-paying customers.
More and more women in Chile are choosing to take the step toward digital transformation in the companies they lead
“In the early months, only the people who needed the subsidized price came to the store, but without the full-paying clients the solidarity price could not be maintained,” Martínez said.
Moreover, she said, the business needed to find a cost-effective way to employ big data and artificial intelligence to track cost savings, inventory shrinkage, and working capital, and forecast production and purchases of ingredients.
Martínez, who handles the financial end of the business but also lists writing up the daily chalkboard specials as part of her duties, is one of three entrepreneurs to receive the grant offered jointly by Visa’s She’s Next program and SWI in Chile. The grant recognizes leadership by women in the management and implementation of digital transformation strategies, opening possibilities for their companies to be increasingly competitive in scenarios where modernization and digitization are essential. The winners each receive a US$5,000 grant and a spot in the Digital Marketing & E-Commerce diploma program offered by Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in Chile.
“More and more women in Chile are choosing to take the step toward digital transformation in the companies they lead,” said Susan Salas, Vice-President of Wholesale Risk and sponsor of The Scotiabank Women Initiative in Chile. “It’s a courageous step and one we seek to recognize through this initiative with Visa, which is also aligned with Scotiabank’s commitment to gender equality and to contribute concretely to the construction of a more equitable society.”
The other recipients are Santiago-based entrepreneurs Ana María Aninat, founder of Love Co., which produces a line of natural hummus products; and journalist Daniela Espinoza, founder of educational technology firm BrechaCero.
Launched in 2018, Love Co. started as a home-based business making hummus from chickpeas, lentils and black beans in a variety of flavours with a shelf life of two years without using preservatives. The company now sells its products in 10,000 retail stores across Chile and Mexico, and on Amazon USA.
Espinoza launched BrechaCero in 2020 to give women a voice within the male-dominated political, economic and public life in her country. The platform essentially democratizes access to executive-level training, improves competitiveness by reducing costs and transferring this added value to the client, and eliminates time and space barriers.
Martínez said SocialPan will use the grant to develop projects paused during lockdowns, such as adding cakes and pastries to its daily offerings, but she is especially excited about the digital marketing program. “It will help us motivate people to choose SocialPan because our bread is great and because it helps the more vulnerable in our society,” she said.
“Being chosen to receive this grant is a tremendous source of pride, but also of understanding our responsibility,” she said.
SocialPan also hopes to be able to open another location in Concepción soon, but its long-term goals are big. “Ultimately, we hope it will become the great solidarity convenience store,” Martínez said, noting that the business model can be replicated for any mass-consumption product.