How Green Chile Became the Fastest Growing Burrito in the Convenience Channel

The frozen burrito marketplace is a crowded one. Frozen burritos seem to tend to fall into one of two camps: They’re either the pseudo-gourmet variety that attempts to replicate the restaurant experience at home, with exotic ingredients and lots of logos touting their “organic” or “non-GMO” pedigree, or they’re the…other kind. Y’know the ones. The ones at the bottom of the freezer shelf in the supermarket, made from who-knows-what, and weighing in at around 60 cents each, suitable mostly for either filling your empty stomach when times or tough, or eating straight from the microwave while trying to remain standing in your kitchen at three in the morning.

Available at a convenience store near you.

Frozen burrito lovers worldwide can find a lot to love in both approaches, but at the Green Chile Food Company, they’re approaching the marketplace a little differently. Their burritos combine real ingredients and complex flavors in tortillas that seem to be made from pure magic, all at a price point that competes with all but the cheapest burritos on the market. But how does a new, independent vendor of quality frozen snack foods gain a foothold in a marketplace dominated by big brands? We spoke with Kari Sims, Vice President of Business Operations at the Green Chile Food Company, who is responsible for brand launch, product development, and packaging to learn more about how this innovative company is making big waves in the burrito business.

Food Truck Empire: Tell us a little bit about The Green Chile Food Company’s backstory. When was the company founded, where, and by whom?

Kari Sims: The business was acquired in October 2014. It was essentially out of business when it was acquired by Green Chile Concepts, LLC . A small group of investors led by former Schwan Food Company CEO, Greg Flack, revised the product line, branding and manufacturing processes to provide the highest quality, best tasting premade burritos in the food industry. Our positioning was and is “Real Food with Real Flavor”. Ingredients you can see and taste.

FTE: What form did the earliest version of the company take? Was it started from home, or did it hit the ground running with investors and a full-scale production facility?

KS: The business was acquired by a small group of investors in its infancy. The business came with a small manufacturing facility, where products were made in a small batch, handcrafted manufacturing process. We immediately reformulated all of the products and changed the packaging to better reflect the brand image we were working to create. The company saw rapid growth in the convenience store food service market and has since moved into the grocery retail, mass and club market place.

The Green Chile Food Company

FTE: Who is your ideal customer?

KS: Someone that wants the convenience of a quick and easy meal, but isn’t willing to sacrifice on flavor. This person likes to try new things, and appreciates quality.

FTE: What hole in the market did your founder identify, and how did he try to fill it with the creation of The Green Chile Food Company?

KS: We noticed the consumer trends of a consumer desire to be more food experimental, a desire for more fresh tasting and higher quality food offerings, the growth of ethnic and Mexican food in the US and the lack of options for this in the prepackaged Mexican food market. Most products in the market were very low quality. With the success of Chipotle Mexican Grill increasing the quality of Mexican food in the fast casual restaurant industry, it provided and opportunity for a premade solution in retail and food service markets.

FTE: The “frozen burrito” segment of the market is crowded. What sets your product apart?

KS: We’re not the “gut fill” options that saturate the market, and we’re not organic either. We use real ingredients, focus on making our flavor the star of the show and ensure you can see the layers of ingredients through our hand rolled process. Our tortillas are made fresh, allowing it to stay soft with every bite and our filling is incorporated in every bite so you never end up with too much tortilla.

FTE: What does product development look like? How do you test new ideas, and evaluate their potential for use in your products?

KS: Product development is really just a running list of thoughts, and we are fortunate to partner with a great Chef who sends us all sorts of outlandish ideas! Expanding the Southwest cuisine offerings was our first goal, by looking at gaps in the freezer and deciding to create burrito bowls and quesadillas. Long term, it’s also about “what is the next burrito or quesadilla flavor?” We look at what flavors are important to consumers, and play around in the kitchen with what we think tastes great. In our technology driven world, we also leverage social media to gauge feedback.

FTE: Where are your products located geographically? Any plans to expand availability? What are the barriers to that expansion?

KS: We have strong availability through convenience stores across the US (ampm, Stripes, Circle K, etc.) as we have been the #1 fastest growing burrito company in the convenience channel the past two years. We are currently launching a 6 oz. frozen burrito available to grocery, mass and club stores and hope to have a strong presence by the end of the year. Along with our 6 and 7oz burritos being available in those channels, we have launched four burrito bowls and by the end of summer will have four frozen quesadillas, a refrigerated fresh green chile queso and both of our fresh refrigerated signature salsas (Fire Roasted Tomato and Poblano Verde). The biggest barrier is just always timing – of the new products being ready, and the store reset schedule. Persistence, patience and the knowledge about those schedules really go a long way in keeping the drive you need!

FTE: What advice would you give to food entrepreneurs, who may be determined to bring their ideas to market but aren’t sure how to begin?

KS: We think three things are crucial – find a mentor or person that can guide you based on some like experience, build a community of people passionate about your idea that will support you and give you honest feedback along the way, and recognize that everyone has to start somewhere. There isn’t one right path to launching something new, begin where you can and buckle in for the ride!

About Malcolm Bedell

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the junk food-centric "Spork & Barrel" and Brocavore, a blog focusing on street food culture and cooking. His contributions include Serious Eats, Eat Rockland, Down East, L.A. Weekly, Bon Appetit, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater.