How La Caja China Got Cooking

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UPS delivers a tried-and-true Caribean roaster to retailers and barbecue enthusiasts.

Without UPS and our website, there’s no way we would have been able to grow the way we have.

It was Christmas 1985 when Roberto Guerra’s father first mentioned the long, wooden box he remembered from his childhood in Cuba. The younger Guerra was cooking a pig on a makeshift Barbecue, but was complaining about the time and hassle involved. His father told him how the old contraption, mysteriously called la caja china (the Chinese box), could dramatically cut roasting times. Intrigued, Guerra asked his father to build one. A few years later, La Caja China, the company, was born in South Florida.

La Caja China’s initial market was the sizable Cuban-American population in the Miami area, but has since grown to include barbecue and roasting enthusiasts around the country. Of the 8,000 roasting boxes sold last year via the internet and by telephone, more than 90 percent went to buyers outside the area. The box has also become the toast of many food writers and celebrity chefs. One 2004 feature about the apparatus in the New York Times helped triple sales and increase traffic to the company’s website tenfold.

Making the company’s most popular model requires cutting and joining large pieces of plywood to form the box, and then scoring, bending and spot welding aluminum sheeting to form a lining. Other metal parts such as the charcoal tray, grid and drip tray are produced in the company’s factory in Medley, FL. Some of the parts are outsourced. Says Guerra, “It’s very important for me to know when I’m going to get my supplies in, because one day makes a huge difference.”

A key to the company’s success has been its relationship with UPS. Since day one, La caja China has used UPS Ground. The company’s most popular product which can cook a 70-pound pig in about four hours, ships in two large boxes, each weighing 50 pounds. La Caja China’s accounting system is integrated with UPS World-Ship 9.0, so the company can easily keep track of billing and delivery status. Guerra says: “Without UPS and our website, there’s no way we would have been able to grow the way we have.”

Going whole hog

To help expand sales to grocery chains like Publix, the company began trials with UPS Freight LTL last December. Guerra reports that the trials have been a resounding success, with all deliveries arriving at the times required by the chains.
“Publix was very happy I was using UPS,” Guerra says.

Guerra expects annual revenue to grow from $2 million in 2006 to $3 million in 2009 – which leaves only the enigmatic name of the company’s flagship product to ponder. Guerra belives it may be from Chinese workers who came to Cuba in the 1850s, while others point out that in the Caribbean, the adjective “Chinese” is often used to describe anything unusual or clever. Either way, its appeal is no mystery.

Let UPS do the heavy lifting

Are you ready to expand, but stumped by the challenges of wholesale? Not sure how to get your products out to retailers? Just as it did for La Caja China, UPS Freight can help you manage and organize bulk shipments, and get them to warehouses with scheduled delivery times. And you can now process bills of lading with UPS WorldShip 9.0.

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Roberto Guerra
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