San Antonio, Texas
Tortilla chips, nacho cheese, popcorn, and accompaniments
The Liberto family has been in the food business since 1909, when Rosario Liberto arrived in America from Sicily. Rosario's son, Enrico Liberto, revived Liberto Specialty Co. in 1933 after the ravages of the Great Depression. Enrico's son, Frank Liberto, took over the business in 1960 after Enrico became blind. When Frank invented concession nachos in 1976, the Ricos Products Company fans know and love today was born.
"We're a Texas born-and-bred company," Emerson says. "We're proud to say that the fifth generation is now working in the business, and the family is very involved in the day-to-day and know just about every employee by name."
That's a pretty tall order given the 200 workers in the company's 100,000-sqauare-foot Arlington factory where Ricos Original Nacho Chips and four varieties of popcorn are manufactured. The facility houses four tortilla chip production lines and can produce about 5,500 pounds of tortilla chips per hour. Its popcorn line is capable of manufacturing 1,000 pounds of popcorn an hour.
"We also have a large co-manufacturing network that we rely on for cheese sauce, pickles, jalapenos, and things like that," Emerson says. "We have a hybrid approach, but we work very closely with those co-manufacturing facilities."
In addition to its own snack foods brand, Ricos Products Company offers tortilla chip and popcorn co-manufacturing services to other businesses. Its facility is SQF certified, HAACP certified, peanut- and tree-nut free, certified kosher, and meets cGMP requirements.
"Last year we added the fourth tortilla chip line, which added capacity for the facility," Emerson says. "We also added a new corn-cooking system. This equipment allows us to bring in raw food-grade corn. We cook it and then mill it ourselves to make into the masa, which then becomes tortilla chips. We also have a big initiative right now to implement Lean manufacturing. We're focused on process improvement, and we've done a whole bunch of training."
Ricos Products Company sources ingredients from Texas whenever possible. "We work with Texas farmers for the corn for our tortilla chips," Emerson says. "We use Texas oil for the tortilla chips and popcorn. And we work as close as we can with the actual grower of the agricultural product as possible."
This Texas-proud authenticity has made the company's products a staple at movie theaters, ballparks, convenience stores, and retailers -- not just across the state but around the globe.
"I would say 99 percent of our business is wholesale," Emerson says. "We sell all over the U.S. and are in 57 countries around the world. We also have our own cash-and-carry store [at our headquarters] in San Antonio. If someone's ever in town and wants to visit us, we have a little store and sell many of our products there. You can just walk in and buy some nacho supplies."
Visitors to Ricos Products Company headquarters can also enjoy the Ricos Museum. "It's open to the public," Emerson says, "and has all of the family history, photos, archives, and artifacts from the business throughout the years. It even has our original Rico, which is our mascot, on display there. It's pretty fun."
Challenges: "Over the past two years, we've ridden the highs and lows of supply constraints, labor costs, price increases -- all the things that everyone has," Emerson says. "But so far in 2023, we're in a good position. We're seeing a bit of softening on some of our commodities. And we're really proud to say that our labor pool has stabilized. During the challenging times, we really dug in and learned how to be more efficient, and how to do more with less in some cases. That has served us well."
Opportunities: "We're really excited about new items we have launching this spring," Emerson says. The first is a flavored tortilla chip that captures the brand's iconic gourmet nacho cheese sauce flavor. "The bag mirrors the look of our gourmet nacho cheese sauce can," she continues. "So, it will be very familiar to the customer."
Popcorn Party Packs will also be available soon, along with Nachos on the Go Party Packs to capitalize on the popularity of the brand's Nachos on the Go product that features individual cheese cups and individual servings of Ricos Products Company's tortilla chips.
"We know nachos," Emerson adds. "We eat them every day. We've engineered our nacho chips so that they're a little bit thicker than your normal just eating tortilla chip. It can withstand the gooey yumminess of nacho cheese, and it doesn't get soggy. It'll be able to carry that cheese without a mess to your mouth and give you that crunch and bite that you're looking for along with your cheese sauce."
Needs: Emerson notes that Ricos Products Company is doing well and does not have any needs currently. "We've pulled though the hard times, and we're seeing the fruit of that labor," she says.