News and Trends Editor Diane Toops recently sat down with Bryce Ruiz, president and co-CEO, Ruiz Foods, Dinuba, Calif. to talk about business and the history of Ruiz Foods. The following is the transcript of their conversation:
FP: In 1964, your grandfather, Louis Ruiz, and your father, Fred, one of the icons in the food industry, laid the foundations for Ruiz Foods to provide authentic Mexican food to consumers in the U.S. Since then, Ruiz has become a multi-million dollar company, the largest food manufacturer of frozen Mexican food, with some 2,600 employees. Could you tell us about their original strategy for success?
BR: Wow … if you talked to my dad, I don’t think you’d hear him say they had a "strategy" back in 1964. I don’t think entrepreneurs have a strategy … even today. I think entrepreneurs inherently just create. They come up with an idea and they’re willing to work hard to see if their idea is good enough to be successful. I do believe dad and grandpa knew early on they had a good idea. My grandma did make incredibly good Mexican food and it was her recipes that they based their burritos, enchiladas and tamales on. But that doesn’t mean they thought it would be easy. In fact, my dad shares a great story of how one time, very early in Ruiz Foods, funds were short and dad didn’t know if they’d make payroll without having to borrow money. What was grandpa’s answer to the pending dilemma? “Well then, we just have to work harder.” For them there was no other option.
To use dad’s own words, their story – i.e. their strategy – is “a story of family and relationships – hard work and dedication – a belief in people and a caring attitude. It is a story of a company where every challenge is seen as an opportunity, and it is a story of trust, leadership, transition, generations and constant learning.”
FP: You and your sister Kim are the third generation to be involved in the company. What is your vision to grow the company, and what would you like your legacy to be?
BR: Our vision is to keep Ruiz Foods a family-owned and family-operated company that continues its legacy of making great food as it demonstrates our passion for making a difference.
FP: What is your management style?
BR: With the foundation of my grandfather – coupled by the building blocks of my dad – I work hard to make sure that each of our team members has a strong understanding of our goals. Kim and I both have a total commitment to the company and we are constantly asking ourselves “what can we do that will make a difference?” As important is the question “what can we do … together with our 2,600 team members … that will make a difference?”
In my position of leadership, I believe I am here to help each of our team members realize their own potential, focusing my energies to foster loyalty, integrity, trust and pride. I am also here to guide activities as they relate to customer satisfaction, quality, innovation and growth. I am here to motivate … and to delegate … to empower and to constantly ensure we are looking for new ways, new ideas, new approaches, new products and services that will benefit Ruiz Foods as a whole, each of our team members as individuals, and our customers and our consumers as well.
How do I accomplish this? By working hard … very hard … to know when to lead and when to step back. To always demonstrate confidence … quietly and with humility. To anticipate roadblocks and challenges and to understand that success takes careful planning. I will also work hard to support the practice that balances direction and control with support and openness as we keep lines of communication open, appreciate different points of view.
I have learned from my dad and my grandfather that it is our values that ground us. We have come to call these values “The Ruiz Way”: safety, integrity, respect, quality, innovation and teamwork. These six powerful words are our code … our promise … our way of approaching each day … the definition of who we are and where our roots have come from. “The Ruiz Way” keeps us focused. We’ll never take success for granted. We’ll always maintain a strong value system, hold each person accountable for his or her responsibilities and always encourage each Team Member to make a difference.
BR: I’m not sure if I would say food preferences change but I do think food preferences broaden … whether it’s the Latino population, the Italian population, the German population, etc. It’s human nature to try new foods, new tastes, new textures and new flavors. And, in most cases, people like what they try … want more and are willing and interested to try more … and so the cycle continues.
FP: What it is about your brands that make them connect with consumers, and are you developing products that help consumers put great meals on the table for an affordable price?
BR: I’m proud to say that from that first day in 1964, Ruiz Foods has been helping consumers put great meals on the table for an affordable price. Dad and grandpa Louis started with my grandma’s recipes for burritos, tamales and enchiladas – quality, authentic Mexican food for families who were also looking for value – in fact, several of our original El Monterey Burrito flavors remain among the top ten items in the frozen Mexican food category.
Today, the products we develop under our El Monterey brand continue to help consumers put great meals on the table for an affordable price. Case in point: the four El Monterey Family Meal flavors that were introduced less than a year ago. Available in four varieties, each flavor-packed Mexican meal combination is easy to prepare and comes in their own convenient heat-and-serve tray. Serving four to five people for under $10, El Monterey Family Meals bring the ‘restaurant’ experience right to the kitchen table.
From the FoodProcessing.com Product Library
FP: Are there any new products in the pipeline you’d like to tell us about?
Sorry, it’s too soon to talk about some of the new products our R&D Department is working on but one El Monterey product very recently introduced to the retail channel … by popular demand of our own consumers … are the Tornados by El Monterey we originally introduced to the c-store roller grill. Research told us consumers wanted to be able to enjoy Tornados by El Monterey at home in addition to buying them at their local convenience stores. So … we now have six flavors of Tornados by El Monterey for the retail channel, distributed nationally, and perfect for the Mexican food lover who is interested in trying new textures and flavors.
FP: Ruiz has a long legacy of commitment to community involvement. These are tough economic times, but you continue that legacy. Could you tell us about some of those initiatives?
BR: Both Kim and I firmly believe in giving back to the communities in which both our Team Members and we live. It’s really quite simple. Our communities and the children in our communities are the future. As stewards of our family company, it’s important to recognize the responsibility we have to those very same communities. Our initiatives focus on children and education. Within the past 12 months: our in-house Ruiz 4 Kids non profit organization just held its annual Louis F. Ruiz Invitational and raised $151,000 for scholarships for 191 area students; Ruiz Foods and the Ruiz Family recently pledged $1million to Children’s Hospital of Central California; Ruiz Foods and the Ruiz Family recently pledged $250,000 to Visalia, California’s Kaweah Delta District Hospital’s newly constructed Mother/Baby wing; Ruiz Foods donated $2000 to the Denison, TX Boys and Girls Club “Adopt A Room” program; and Ruiz Foods donated $5000 to the Denison, Texas Chapter of the United Way.
FP: Healthier products are the focus of consumers today. Could you tell us how your brands have changed to fit into that focus?
BR: We are constantly reviewing the ingredients used in our products as we look for ways to make them ‘healthier.’ For example: all of our El Monterey brand products contain 0 grams trans fat.
FP: These are tough economic times. What issues keep you awake at night?
BR: I don’t know if any particular ‘issues’ keep me awake at night but as president and co-CEO, a Ruiz family member and, therefore, part owner, I recognize that we are not only responsible for the livelihood of 2,600 Ruiz team members but for the spouses and children of those team members. While it’s a tremendous responsibility, and one I totally embrace, it’s a responsibility that also keeps me focused on the fact that I must always do my best … to keep our philosophy … our founding principals … what we call “The Ruiz Way” … at the top of my mind each and every day.
FP: Conversely, what are the achievements you are proudest of?
BR: I’m proudest of the fact that all our accomplishments – our achievements – are the result of exceptional teamwork. We are amazing together. We communicate, we value each other’s ideas, we give it 150 percent all the time, we genuinely enjoy what we do … we are blessed.
FP: What are your favorite foods, and what foods would you stockpile if you were marooned on an island, and why?
BR: The food I would stockpile is our own El Monterey Beef and Bean Chimichanga. Why? It’s our number one item and for a reason … it’s yummmmmmmmmy.