One man I’ve known for 20 years. The other, I had known only for about 20 minutes.

I was anxious to visit Ruiz Foods in Dinuba, Calif., last fall. It was a chance to reconnect with Chairman Emeritus Fred Ruiz, who wasRefrigerated & Frozen Foods’ “Executive of the Year” in 1994. Likewise, I wanted to better know President and CEO Bryce Ruiz, whom I met a decade later – only briefly – whenR&FFfeatured Ruiz as “Processor of the Year” in 2004.

That said, I think that Bryce and his sister, Chairman Kim Ruiz Beck, are the first third-generation family company leaders I have known. I wanted to hear all three family members share perspectives on family history and company history. I also was curious for their take on Ruiz Foods’ growth. What used to be a more regional frozen Mexican foods company since has extended its product line, distribution and brand promotion across a national stage.

“I don’t exactly know when we became a national company but there is a different dimension now,” Fred admitted. “Bryce is not limited by the past and I think that it’s an advantage. Sometimes the past can be a burden and be limiting in terms of your outlook.”

Bryce interjected, “I’ve inherited a sustainable business. I don’t have the burden of asking whether we can simply make payroll and pay the light bill . . . Yet we’re working just as hard and with a sense of urgency. It’s just that we’re taking our time to be more selective and strategic about where and how we push the business.”

This, indeed, is a fascinating story on many levels. Ruiz has stepped up its game through…

… better strategic planning and communication.Like Sandridge Food Corp. (R&FF December), Ruiz dramatically recast its strategic planning and reorganized its people and funding to fewer, bigger, better ideas.

… the power of packaging.Ruiz Foods’ retail launch of Tornados and stand-up pouch repackaging (affecting 12 more SKUs) completely overhauled the company’s retail freezercase appeal for customers and consumers alike.

… the power of social media. It was none other than Bryce Ruiz, 35, who launched Facebook pages for Ruiz Foods’ brands. In 2010, the two brands registered 2 billion impressions and drove more than 3.5 million brand engagements on Facebook, officials say.

Truth be told, Bryce and Kim will face their corporate growth challenges. Even so, it’s great to see this proud family company shifting gears and racing ahead.

New year, new look

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ New Year’s resolution is to deliver even more temperature-sensitive insights from thought and technology leaders. We are increasing our coverage of cold food safety and cold food packaging and adding even more muscle to our cold supply chain section with a new executive interview feature.Turn to page 15 to see who’s talking this month. You’ll notice inside, too, that we’ve re-arranged magazine departments to complement and surround our cover features. We hope you enjoyR&FF’s new look and contents.