In the world of snacks, some innovations are hotter than others—and sometimes burn so brightly that the entire industry feels the heat.
Such is the case for Barcel USA, based in Coppell, TX, and its flagship product, Takis Fuego, an innovatively bold, rolled tortilla chip that astutely combines fiery heat from chile peppers with a touch of lime. The snack has clearly captured America’s attention—and its abundant fan base keeps coming back for more.
As reported in annual SF&WB “State of the Industry: Snacks” analysis, Barcel USA’s Takis Fuego brand has increased its sales significantly. This phenomenal rate of brand expansion, along with the company’s highly efficient, sustainable approach toward production—among other factors—has led SF&WB to name Barcel USA its 2020 “Snack Producer of the Year.”
During SNAXPO20—taking place March 22–24 in Charlotte, NC—SF&WB will present Barcel USA leadership with the award in a special ceremony during the Breakfast Session on Tuesday, March 24.
And while Barcel USA has achieved much in its short tenure producing snacks in its Coppell facility, the company is far from done with its ambitious mission of bringing an increasing scale and scope of snack innovations to the American public.
Grupo Bimbo, the largest bakery company in the world, got its start in Mexico in 1945. Barcel, its snacks division, was established in 1978 in Mexico and grew into one of the country’s top snack producers. In 1999, the company invented its now-famous Takis rolled tortilla chips—salty snacks that resemble tiny, extra-crunchy taquitos.
Over time, Grupo Bimbo leadership saw a significant opportunity to the north and began exporting products to the U.S. starting in 1984. Grupo Bimbo eventually established bakery production in Fort Worth, TX, launching Bimbo Bakeries USA in 1998 (BBU is now headquartered in Horsham, PA). The snacks side followed this northward expansion, and Barcel USA put down roots in Coppell in 2012.
“Before that, we brought 100 percent of the product from Mexico,” says Milton Mattus, vice president, Barcel USA. Now Barcel USA manufactures a high percentage of its Takis products for the U.S. in the Coppell plant.
Sustainability is a big part of this drive toward maximum efficiency. “For example, we are using new technologies in our processes, such as a heat exchanger installed last year to repurpose the heat from the oil to reduce energy expenditures. We also use cleaning techniques to reduce water consumption and improve disposal separating oil in fryers, among others. Our sustainability efforts are aligned with the company’s global strategy,” notes Mattus.
On a roll
From 2015 to 2019, Takis Fuego significantly increased sales based on IRI data reported in annual SF&WB “State of the Industry: Snacks” analysis. The rolled tortilla chips are highly popular across several U.S. demographics, with particular strength in youth markets.
At a Glance
Company: Barcel USA
Headquarters: Coppell, TX
Website address: www.barcel-usa.com
Plant size: 300,000 square feet
Number of production lines: Three
Number of employees: 200+
Products: rolled tortilla chips, cheese snacks, potato chips, popcorn, tortilla chips, snack nuts, confections
Brands: Takis, Stix, Watz, Artisan Style Kettle Cooked, Tostachos, Mariachips, Barcel POP, Barcel Peanuts, Hot Nuts
Vice President: Milton Mattus
Director of Marketing: Rafael Velez
Marketing Manager: Sandra Peregrina Sepulveda
Production Manager: Eric Licerio
“Takis was very unique to the U.S. when we launched it, and in the past, we did a lot of grassroots efforts to get the brand out there,” says Mattus. “We’ve really engaged with the consumer base with sampling, being at concerts, making sure that we got the product into their hands so they could try it.” Rather quickly, it took off.
“We made sure that we supported the brand with advertising, and now we get the word out there faster,” says Mattus.
Sandra Peregrina Sepulveda, marketing manager, notes that the core Takis lineup consists of five flavors: Fuego, Nitro (habanero, lime and cucumber), Guacamole, Crunchy Fajitas, and Wild (Buffalo). The Wild flavor originated from a “Takis Flavor Challenge” promotion during summer 2018 where Takis fans voted on four possible new flavors that could join the regular Takis lineup.
“The Takis Flavor Challenge allowed us to engage with consumers,” says Mattus.
Some seasonal items have also appeared. “The most famous is Takis Zombie, which started as a seasonal Halloween product,” says Peregrina Sepulveda. The fittingly green Takis Zombie variety, she notes, has a flavor profile based on habanero and cucumber.
“We are always trying new flavors” says Mattus. “If any find sufficient traction, they might see a more-widespread launch into the market.”
This type of bold flavor adventuring is expected by the Takis faithful. “Our consumer is always looking for innovation in our brands,” says Rafael Velez, director of marketing. “It’s an ongoing process.”
While some of the flavors of Takis—like Fuego—are equally at home on both sides of the border, other profiles see targeted release only in the U.S. Still other flavors might originate in Mexico and then see selective test-market trials in the U.S., notes Velez.
“In the past, we used to carry a lot of innovation from our Mexico operation,” says Mattus. But over time, the R&D team in Coppell began developing more of its own flavors.
Fuego is the spiciest Takis flavor on the market, says Mattus, but R&D innovations are ongoing—and the Takis team likes to push the envelope...
In addition to Takis, Barcel USA has started to see more traction on its Artisan Style line of kettle-cooked potato chips, available in flavors like Fuego, Lime-Chipotle, Jalapeño, Habanero, and Diabla (red hot chile pepper).
The newest addition to the Barcel USA snack lineup is Watz, a line of uniquely shaped extruded cheese snacks. “Last year we launched a new line of products, Watz, targeting a younger demographic,” says Mattus. The cheese snacks are available in flavor varieties like Cheese Shock and the ever-popular Fuego.
The company’s Stix cheese snacks come in Fuego, Chili Pepper & Lime, and Jalapeño flavor varieties.
Barcel USA has steadily introduced more products to a wider range of retail channels—well beyond traditional retail and convenience stores to warehouse/club stores, dollar stores, vending and foodservice. “Our distribution has grown over the last years, and we still have more distribution opportunities,” says Mattus.
Mattus suggests that younger U.S. consumers—such as Generation Z and Generation Next—are naturally developing a “more ethnic” approach to their food choices. “They’re more open to trying flavorful products, spicy products—even very spicy products in some instances.”
In Mexico, continues Mattus, spicy products dominate. “The majority of the snacks are just born that way. But I think that as this changing U.S. demographic continues to develop, it will open more opportunities for companies like ours to cater better to those consumers. I think Takis was probably one of the first products to offer that to U.S. consumers.”
Barcel USA has accomplished much over the past several years. “I’m most proud of our people,” says Mattus. “The team here works really hard. They are a very smart group of people, and it’s just a pleasure to work with them. The way that we see each other is like a family. We work hard as a group, and that really makes the difference. Together, we achieve our goals—and the goals of our parent company. It’s something that this team should be proud of every single day.”