For Business

Merchant spotlight: La Monarca

A renowned LA bakery moves online to share its Mexican treats across the US.

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Picture yourself walking into your favorite local bakery—all the senses it engages, the feelings it evokes. The scent of fresh baked breads. The taste of sweet pastries. The sight of beautiful desserts behind glass counters. And the warmth of the busy ovens and the friendly staff who have come to know you.

That’s the experience Ricardo Cervantes and Alfredo Livas were trying to recreate when they opened the first La Monarca Bakery & Café in Huntington Park, California, in 2006, and now in all 12 locations throughout Los Angeles.

The two founders met while attending Stanford, but they both grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, with similar memories of going to their favorite local bakery where the staff knew their names and they could get fresh panecito, concha bread, pan dulce, and more. They wanted to bring these experiences to life in Los Angeles and share their culture with their new community.

Like many new business ideas, Ricardo and Alfredo wanted to fill a void in their local market. But more than anything, they wanted to preserve and pass along Mexican traditions of their youth to the next generation of Latinos.

One way La Monarca does that is through its products. “The missionof the company is to bring the sweet flavor of Mexico to consumers in the US,” says Mae Tuck, Chief Marketing Officer at La Monarca, “and we do that by making authentic Mexican baked goods and other products that have an updated twist.”

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The other ways La Monarca stays true to its roots is by creating opportunities in the communities it serves and caring for the environment. Specifically, the company partners with ECOLIFE Conservation to raise awareness and money for the nonprofit. La Monarca donates 1% of every product sold on its website and Amazon.com to ECOLIFE.

Says Mae, “Our company is named after the monarch butterfly, and in Michoacán, Mexico, the main monarch butterfly habitat is being threatened by humans cutting down trees.” La Monarca’s donations help ECOLIFE build Patsari stoves for families, helping them use 60% less wood and ultimately reduce deforestation, pollution, and carbon emissions.

La Monarca finds its place in ecommerce

As La Monarca expanded from its first bakery to others around the greater Los Angeles area, consumers of all walks of life were embracing the company’s authentic products and the deep-rooted experience that the founders worked so hard to build.

“Our purpose for the company is to make life sweeter, and it’s very straightforward how you do that in a bakery,” Mae says. “The minute that you walk into one of our bakeries, from the smell of the fresh bread to the friendly service that you get from the team members, you feel very welcome and happy when you’re in that bakery. Ricardo always says, ‘Nobody ever leaves a bakery sad,’ and that’s the experience that we want to bring to life in the bakeries.”

But as the team looked to grow and consumers in other cities started clamoring for La Monarca’s goods, they had to figure out how to capture the in-person bakery experience in a packaged product, explains Mae. “We want all of those brand attributes and those good feelings to be in a bag that someone takes into their home and enjoys.”

So, in the fall of 2019, they started working on product development for shelf-stable baked goods that could be shipped across the country. Then the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, disrupting consumers’ daily lives and forcing food-service and dining establishments to close around the world. The need for the ecommerce arm of La Monarca suddenly became more important than ever. Says Mae, “The coming of the pandemic basically just sped up the launch of those products and that’s what propelled us to stand up our own Shopify site to sell those products.”

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Like with any business that expands from brick-and-mortar to an online store, the team had its fair share of growing pains, including figuring out pricing, shipping costs, and fulfillment. But given La Monarca’s expansive customer base in Los Angeles and a strong following on social media from fans in other cities, its ecommerce business grew steadily.

With in-store foot traffic down during the pandemic, however, ecommerce sales weren’t growing fast enough and in-house fulfillment continued to be a challenge, Mae admits. So that’s when they decided to expand to Amazon.com. Leaving fulfillment to Amazon for those orders freed up La Monarca’s small fulfillment team to focus on orders that came through the ecommerce site.

“We’ve been seeing really strong growth year over year, so I’m excited that we’re finally at a good, healthy pace on Amazon,” she says. “So far, 2023 is the best year we’ve had on Amazon since we’ve launched, so we’re very excited and optimistic about what’s to come.”

Buy with Prime sweetens the deal

Although the La Monarca team was happy with steady sales and streamlined fulfillment from Amazon, LaMonarcaBakery.com remained an important channel to share the brand story and build relationships with customers. So when Buy with Prime launched, empowering them to use the trust of Prime and Amazon fulfillment directly on their ecommerce site, they were intrigued.

With Buy with Prime, new and existing La Monarca customers can use their Prime memberships to get the seamless checkout, fast, free delivery, and easy returns that they love from Amazon.com. The free 1–2 day shipping was particularly attractive to the La Monarca team, because they know how attractive it is to shoppers.

“We knew that one of the friction points for shoppers is the shipping costs—we offered $10 flat-rate shipping on orders over $50,” Mae says, “but with Buy with Prime, the shipping cost is no longer part of the decision. We’re very curious to see if removing that shipping friction helps improve the conversion rate on our site.”

Additionally, with a very small team handling fulfillment for all of the site’s orders, La Monarca couldn’t get orders to customers quickly. With consumers’ increasing expectations for fast delivery, a difference of a few days could mean a lost sale. The company ships site orders using standard ground shipping, so for orders from the East Coast, for example, shipment could take 5–6 days or more.

“Today’s consumers—that includes all of us—want to place an order and get it tomorrow or the next day,” Mae says. “Offering the Prime delivery promise on our site means our customers can get what they ordered fast, and it helps make the shopping experience a lot more positive for them.”

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Beyond fulfillment, Buy with Prime is helping La Monarca build trust among shoppers, especially those in markets outside of Los Angeles where the online store is the only option to get the Mexican bakery’s sweet treats. The Buy with Prime badge is featured in the global top navigation and directs to the Buy with Prime collection page with all of the products that offer Prime shopping benefits. “Having Buy with Prime on our site is like a badge of approval for shoppers,” Mae points out. “There’s a level of trust associated with Prime. And I think the association with Amazon also lends us a halo of being tech-forward.”

This is particularly important in an industry that isn’t traditionally known for ecommerce. As food-service and grocery brands are still trying to find their footing in the ecommerce landscape, La Monarca is ahead of the curve and sees Buy with Prime as helping build credibility. “The fact that we have a strong online presence, with a thriving Amazon store and ecommerce site, helps give us credibility when we’re talking to big retail chains, like Costco, Albertsons, and World Market.”

She adds, “It helps tell the whole story in terms of our omnichannel presence. We’re really an omnichannel brand, with Amazon and Buy with Prime being part of the online component.”

Check out all the great products from La Monarca that offer fast, free delivery when you check out using Buy with Prime.

Lindsay Holloway