December 1, 2006
By Deborah Cassell
Henry Ford’s got nothin’ on La Reina founder and CEO Mauro Robles, whose company offers tortillas in countless flavors, sizes and even colors. Just call them the new Model T’s.
“The customer can have any color he wants, so long as it’s black,” said entrepreneur and automobile mogul Henry Ford.
Although Ford revolutionized the auto industry with his classic designs and dreams of mass production, his Model T didn’t offer the long list of features modern cars do. As factories became less dependent on employees and more automated, endless choices became available.
Today, drivers can choose from everything from compact hatchbacks to super-size SUVs to environmentally friendly hybrids, in hues ranging from silver to bronze to turquoise to basic black. The only other group of manufacturers that comes close to providing consumers with as much variety belongs to the food industry.
La Reina is one such company. The Commerce, Calif.-based bakery, part of La Reina Family Brands, has been producing tortillas since 1958 and now offers an array of colors (brown, green, red), flavors (chocolate, pesto, tomato) and sizes, from 4.5-in. dessert tortillas to 16-in. wraps and everything in between.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter operation,” says company president Ricardo Robles, whose father, Mauro Robles, founded the business and serves as CEO.
Henry Ford might not have been making cookies or tortillas, but it’s safe to say that in this day and age, he, too, would have understood the merits of offering more than one variety of vehicle. Nowadays, diverse options are crucial to running a successful business, especially for a private label/co-pack bakery such as La Reina, whose offerings go beyond mere flour tortillas and wraps to include tastier and more healthful varieties.
When it comes to shopping for food products, today’s consumers crave high-quality items that are both tasty and healthy. To quote Henry Ford, “Quality means doing it right when no one else is looking.” La Reina is dedicated to both quality and innovation. For this reason, the company offers a number of whole grain, whole wheat, multigrain, organic and all-natural tortillas. These health-driven products appeal to what has become a nation of label readers.
“More people are reading labels,” Ricardo says. This includes both the ingredient statement and the nutritional information found on the back of the package. “They want to understand what they’re eating,” he adds.
In the case of tortillas, the consumers reading these labels include many Mexican-Americans. Tortillas are an integral part of most Mexican meals. And given the growing Hispanic community, tortilla manufacturers, and food makers in general, cannot afford to neglect this important demographic group.
Nor can they afford to ignore worldwide demand for tortillas. In addition to distributing its products nationwide, La Reina has been exporting for almost 20 years, Ricardo says. Consumers in countries such as England, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia now enjoy tortillas and wraps in their own way, often without beans or rice.
“Just about every country in the world has a flatbread,” Ricardo notes. For Mexico and, more recently, the United States, the most popular flatbread is the tortilla. In markets where there is little or no understanding of the product, La Reina places cooking instructions and recipes on the back of its packages, which also are bilingual, Ricardo says. Directions might include such basics as how to fold the tortilla.
Ricardo even visits foreign customers such as those in Asia to see how La Reina’s products arrive and are maintained and distributed. Exported products must be frozen, and “the tortilla is very fragile in its frozen state,” Ricardo explains. It has to “temp up nice and slowly,” he adds.
Today, both quick-casual restaurants and traditional fast-food chains offer tortilla products such as quesadillas, burritos and wraps, making the tortilla less of an ethnic menu item than a mainstream one.
Fueling the Future
Part of the reason tortillas have become so popular is that they are readily available, thanks largely to automated machinery. For example, La Reina offers both hand-stretched and automatically hot-pressed tortillas, but both rely on the latest equipment. (For details, see “A Modern Marriage,” page 14.)
“I see automation in the tortilla industry continuing to advance,” Ricardo says, adding that the growth of natural and organic products will continue, as well.
To that end, La Reina plans to expand its club, grocery and convenience channel business, in addition to its international exportations.
Although La Reina is far from being the only tortilla manufacturer in the United States, it stays ahead of the competition with its quick turnaround, extensive offerings and ability to customize product for its clients. As a private label/co-packer, the company caters to customers who desire custom products in particular flavors, sizes and packages.
“Give us an idea, and we’ll try to make it,” Ricardo says. Many customers have taken La Reina up on this suggestion, hence the company’s continued success in the industry.
As Henry Ford said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” La Reina has earned its good rep through years of service and dedication to a growing category … and a love of its own Model T’s.
Editor’s Note: For more information about La Reina, check out “Made in America,” which appeared in the August 2006 issue and can be found at www.snackandbakery.com.