Thanks to brightly colored packaging and palette-pleasing Mexican dishes, Ruiz Foods’ fiesta in the freezercase is just getting started.
The last couple of years have certainly given Ruiz Food Products, Inc. many reasons to throw a fiesta. On the heels of celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Dinuba, Calif.-based frozen Mexican foods processor completed an advanced culinary center, acquired and is currently renovating an existing production facility in Florence, S.C., introduced a new line of breakfast burritos and added building infrastructure to its Denison, Texas, facility (go to "How Ruiz Foods Stands by its Commitments" for a walk through of the Denison plant).
Company: Ruiz Food Products, Inc.
Headquarters: Dinuba, Calif.
Top Executive: Kim Ruiz Beck, chairman
Distribution: Nationwide and Canada
No. of Employees: 2,800 company-wide
Distribution: Supermarkets, c-stores, club stores, convenience stores, foodservice
But, it’s the evolution of Ruiz Foods—from a small-sized manufacturer distributing product to mom-and-shop retailers to managing manufacturing facilities in three states, three distribution centers and an R&D center—that caused for celebration. That’s why Refrigerated & Frozen Foods named Ruiz Foods as the 2015 Frozen Foods Processor of the Year, an award Ruiz Foods has received for the third time (Ruiz Foods first graced the cover in September 2004 and then again in January 2011).
“This honor validates the work and dedication of each and every member of the Ruiz team,” says Kim Ruiz Beck, chairman. “Yes, our business has grown since 2011, but we know how important it is to remain flexible. Our assets are our team members. Because of their commitment to the company and to the customers we serve, we remain efficient and do a world-class job supplying the consumer’s demand for quality, great-tasting and valued products.”
Ruiz Beck’s dad, Fred Ruiz, and grandfather, Louis Ruiz, created Ruiz Foods in 1964 out of a warehouse in Tulare, Calif., which today, remains as a small manufacturing plant producing tamales, chile rellenos and other specialty items. At the time, Ruiz Foods developed frozen enchiladas based on recipes from Rose Ruiz, Ruiz Beck’s grandmother.
In 1990, Ruiz Foods built the Dinuba, Calif., site, which is currently the company’s West Coast manufacturing facility, distribution center and corporate headquarters.
“As demand for our El Monterey products increased and the introduction of our second brand Tornados gained popularity in convenience stores throughout the United States, strategic plans set our sights on finding an existing manufacturing facility and distribution warehouse in the Central part of the United States,” says Ruiz Beck.
How Ruiz Foods Gives Back
Ruiz Foods isn’t just about producing quality frozen Mexican products and roller grill snacks. That’s because the Dinuba, Calif.-based company also takes part in several philanthropic organizations designed to give back to the community.
For starters, it developed Ruiz Cares, a new program that supports its team members’ volunteer efforts. For example, Ruiz Foods pays for the paint when a team member volunteers to paint a home for someone in need, or donates the food when a team member volunteers in a homeless kitchen.
Ruiz 4 Kids is a non-profit organization comprised of team members and two of the company’s annual projects—Louis Ruiz Golf Tournament, which raises money for scholarships, and Mini Grants for Teachers, which provides grant funding for teachers in need of supplies for their classrooms. Since its inception in 2001, the scholarship program has distributed over $2.2 million to high school seniors planning to continue their education in a college or trade school.
Ruiz Foods also hosts a customer-based golf tournament, provides monetary support targeted toward children’s initiatives, such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters and delivers corporate sponsorships for children’s hospitals, etc.
So, in 2005, Ruiz Foods acquired an existing facility in Denison, Texas, later expanding it in 2015. In 2014, the company purchased a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility once belonging to The H. J. Heinz Co. in Florence, S.C., and broke ground on the distribution center and renovated the entire facility in 2015.
“While a decision of this magnitude is never simple, we knew an East Coast facility would certainly bring us closer to our customers [and] increase our level of service,” adds Ruiz Beck. “As we learned about the community and the people, we recognized the striking similarities to our other communities—Dinuba, Calif., and Denison, Texas.”
Today, the family-owned company employs 2,800 team members company-wide and produces El Monterey and Tornados branded products for U.S. and Canada retail and foodservice outlets.
Spicing up the American palette
Ruiz Foods prides itself on delivering convenience, quality, taste and value in each frozen food offering.
“Consumers enjoy Mexican food and want to be able to enjoy it at home. Their busy lifestyle, however, doesn’t lend itself to preparing meals or snacks from scratch,” says Rachel Cullen, president and CEO. “After work, afternoons and evenings are filled with soccer practice, dance lessons, piano lessons and more for their kids. This leaves little time to spend in the kitchen. Moms and dads, however, still want to serve foods that are nutritious and great tasting.”
That’s why over the past year, Ruiz Foods has expanded its El Monterey brand to include the morning breakfast burrito, available in Egg, Sausage & Cheese, Egg & Bacon, Egg, Sausage, Cheese & Potato, Egg, Ham and Cheese and Meat Lovers, which includes egg, sausage, bacon and cheese. These handheld burritos are an excellent source of protein, are made with real ingredients like scrambled eggs, cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, sausage and fresh-baked flour tortillas and can be ready in just 3.5 minutes from the microwave.
To stay on par with today’s school lunch regulations, Ruiz Foods developed the “Smart Snacks in School” program, making its Top 2 best-selling Tornados SKUs—Southwest Chicken and Ranchero Beef—available in whole grain tortillas.
The Tornados brand has also become a roller grill staple, “offering consumers a unique handheld product in a wide variety of flavors from spicy to sweet, meatless and meat filled and AM to PM,” adds Cullen.
Even breakfast lovers partake in the Mexican food craze with El Monterey Butcher Wrapped Burritos in Egg, Sausage, Cheese and Potato, Egg, Bacon, Cheese and Salsa, and Jalapeno, Egg and Cheese varieties.
“Years ago, and I mean many years ago, El Monterey introduced burritos with more spice and heat. The American palate was not ready to experiment,” says Cullen. “Today, consumers can’t seem to get enough. Flavors like our El Monterey Jalapeno, Bean and Three Cheese Burrito, Cheesy Pepperjack Tornados, Egg, Cheese & Jalapeno Breakfast Burrito, even our Southwest Chipotle Chicken Signature Burritos feature some of the favorite flavors for today’s consumer.”
When asked how the backlash of frozen and processed foods has affected frozen food manufacturers like Ruiz Foods, Cullen admits that the movement is not surprising, but is greatly misunderstood.
“As the consumer continues to question and become savvy, they continue to ask for ‘healthier’ foods, and to that same consumer, ‘healthier’ can mean higher in nutrients, lower in calories and salt and/or made with ‘ingredients I recognize,’” she says. “At Ruiz Foods, one of our ongoing initiatives is to simplify our own products and to continue to respond to the consumer. What does the consumer want? What is important in the food they purchase? At the same time, the quality, great taste and value found in our products are not negotiable items. They are a critical component of the reputation Ruiz Foods has built since our beginning in 1964.”
Recipe for success
Earlier this year, Ruiz Foods opened the Rose Ruiz Innovation Center, located at the company’s Dinuba headquarters. Named in honor of Rose, this new facility is equipped with test kitchens, a state-of-the-art sensory science center, analytical and micro labs, a pilot lab for scale up and a packaging innovation center.
“Innovation development at Ruiz Foods is grounded in deep consumer and category insights and is very team based,” says Kathleen Da Cunha, senior vice president of corporate strategy and R&D. “Our commitment to innovation began over 50 years ago when our co-founders began Ruiz Foods by making frozen enchiladas. Today, this commitment—this promise—remains at the forefront of every product idea. Initial ideas are fully vetted with consumers in different settings to develop the concept and understand consumer needs. High potential ideas then enter the development process during which R&D creates the formula and packaging structure. Cross-functional team meetings occur on a regular basis from concept to commercialization to ensure a successful launch.”
Without a doubt, the possibilities for Ruiz Foods to grow and evolve are limitless, according to Ruiz Beck.
“As we embrace the future, we will remain focused on the needs of our customer and their consumer, on our commitment to innovation, quality and great taste and on our commitment to our team members,” she adds. “For the long term, we will remain family owned. We will continue to invest in our people and in our facilities. We will continue to stay in tune with our customers and their consumers. We will continue to offer innovation and quality food that tastes great. We will continue to evolve as our customer and consumer evolves. And, we will continue to offer category leadership and insight.”
From palette-pleasing Mexican dishes to a strong and steadfast commitment to its employees, customers and consumers, Ruiz Foods’ fiesta in the freezercase is just getting started.