Mexican Snacks Producer Moves First U.S. Plant to the Upstate

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Century-old Cardín Foods Inc. almost didn’t set up shop in the Upstate.

Last year, the 106-year-old family business based in the Yucatan city of Mérida began pushing product out the door at its first U.S. facility in Charlotte, North Carolina. But a surprise from the company’s landlord changed everything.

“It was a mistake,” said Oscar Betancourt, Cardín Foods’ U.S. CEO. “We thought we had an agreement with the landlord that he would give us a long-term lease, but he decided to sell the property.”

With orders mounting, Betancourt started exploring the market for an alternative food-grade facility, a search that eventually led him to Spartanburg County.

In the end, he worked with a four-person team from Lyons Industrial Properties – founder Bobby Lyons, Adam Padgett, Dillon Swayngim, and Jordan Skellie – and found a lease-to-own 48,000-square-foot property in Orchard Business Park once occupied by Spartan Foods of America. That company, which specialized in pizza crusts, was acquired by B&G Foods Inc. in 2015.

In Mexico, Cardín Foods employs more than 500 workers engaged in the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of snack foods, pork rinds, peanuts, salsa, and candies for sale in-country.

The facility in Spartanburg County will focus on private-label potato chips, with production scheduled to begin in late November, so product will again find its way onto shelves at supermarkets and convenience stores in the New York City area, Betancourt said.

The company, which holds a kosher certification, is also a supplier for Groucho’s, the Columbia-based delicatessen chain with franchises throughout the Carolinas.

“Potato chips continue to be the most popular savory-snack category in the U.S.,” said Elizabeth Avery, president and CEO of SNAC International, a snack food association, with sales reaching more than $5.8 billion for the year ending June 10, according to market research company IRI.

Led by millennials and Generation Z-ers, “Consumers are snacking more frequently than ever before,” Avery added.

In addition to domestic distribution, Cardín Foods’ new Upstate operation will ship potato chips to Mexico. Delivery to the port of Panama City, Florida, will be done by truck, with bags of chips arriving at the home port used by the company.

Production of a second U.S. wholesale item, tortilla chips, is planned for late 2019, and the Spartanburg operation already has a buyer in metro New York.

In the Big Apple and elsewhere, the market for tortilla chips is “huge,” Betancourt said. Combined tortilla/tostada chip sales in the U.S. during the last three years averaged 3.2 percent, according to IRI.

“Tortilla chips are a great example of a traditional snack that has benefited from a lot of innovation, with new flavors and healthy inclusions such as ancient grains,” said Avery.

Further diversifying its line, Cardín Foods expects to market a no-salt, flavored potato chip that it has developed for health-conscious consumers. “And that’s a market that’s not a bit competitive, so we know we can go to that market and grow faster,” Betancourt said.

The company is now wrapping up its hiring of two dozen workers who will take in raw potatoes and, with the help of equipment, clean and peel them, discard spuds that don’t make the grade, slice them, remove their starch content, place the product in a fryer, season it, and then pass it along to a machine that bags chips at 100 packages per minute.

Betancourt, who once worked for Frito-Lay, is one of only two corporate directors of Cardín Foods who is not a member of the family that founded the eponymous company in 1912.

In Mérida, the man at the top is Miguel Cardín Rodriguez, the company’s owner, chairman, and CEO, who runs the business along with his sons and nephews.

“We are going to increase our business here for a long time,” Cardín said as he surveyed the Spartanburg facility in October.

“Our strategy never was to grow the business to support Mexico,” he said. “We have an American business, American company, and we will grow here in America.”

As Cardín Foods continues ramping up in the Upstate, Betancourt has his hands full, doing business three weeks a month in this country and one week a month in Mexico and finding time to spend with his wife and children there. Eventually, he said, he hopes to bring his family here.

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