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Moundridge tortilla maker’s reach extends far outside Kansas

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, at 10:12 p.m.

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Tortilla King

Headquarters: Moundridge

Employees: 150

Products: Corn and flour tortillas and tortilla chips

Website: tortillaking.com

— Juan Guardiola won’t say how much his tortilla and chip company’s sales are, but it’s a safe bet they are considerably more than the $300,000 Tortilla King recorded in 1996, a year after the Costa Rica native joined the company as its president.

Back then, the privately held company had a 15,000-square-foot production facility with a single production line, and a limited base of restaurant and grocery store clients primarily in Kansas.

Today, Tortilla King has 150 employees working out of 100,000 square feet in production facilities on the east edge of Moundridge in McPherson County, with warehouses in Kansas City, Omaha and Lincoln.

Tortilla King’s lines of corn and flour tortillas and tortilla chips are sold under the brand names La Comida, Mama Lupe’s and Li’l Guy in more than 2,000 grocery stores in six states as well as to restaurants in the Midwest, Northeast, South, Canada and the United Kingdom. Guardiola said the company’s three production lines churn out nearly 300,000 pounds of tortillas and chips daily.

And Guardiola, who came to Kansas as an engineering student at nearby Hesston College and ended up running Tortilla King for his father-in-law, has plans for 2013 aimed at growing production and its footprint in the U.S.

A little more than 10 years ago, the company had annual sales of $7.5 million. Guardiola and Chief Financial Officer Jeremy Bowen would not disclose the company’s current sales. But, Guardiola said, “we’ve more than doubled that.”

Guardiola, Bowen and sales and business development director Brian McElgunn credit continuous improvements in production efficiency, expansion into new markets on their own and through acquisition, and a focus on quality for the company’s growth. That includes the 2008 acquisition of Li’l Guy Foods in Kansas City. Guardiola shut down production there and moved it – and its 20 employees – to Moundridge, but kept open its warehouse there. “That doubled our sales in the Kansas City market,” said Bowen of the acquisition.

Jon Rolph, president of Wichita-based Sasnak Management, the owner and operator of Carlos O’Kelly’s, has worked with Guardiola for several years. Guardiola said Carlos O’Kelly’s was one of Tortilla King’s first customers. Rolph said he views the business relationship as a partnership more than a customer-supplier relationship. Rolph said that partnership has existed for years because “right from the get-go he worked together (with us) to problem solve, create and innovate.”

“He (Guardiola) has high standards,” Rolph said. “He’s always innovating, making his processes better, his people better.”

Guardiola said the company participates in the Global Food Safety Initiative and its plant has Safe Quality Food Institute certification.

Guardiola and his executives think that supporting local companies is good business for Tortilla King. The company buys its flour, corn and packaging from producers and suppliers in Kansas, including in cities such as Wichita and Pittsburg.

“We believe in supporting the local economy,” Guardiola said. “That’s why we’ve made it an emphasis to purchase locally.”

The company is not without its challenges, the biggest of which is managing the price of commodities.

“The commodities are a roller coaster,” Guardiola said. “We book short-term contracts, long-term contracts, try to do some hedging. Twenty years ago we didn’t have to worry about it.”

Besides using contracts and hedging, the company also tries to manage those costs by minimizing the amount of product left over from the manufacturing process, Bowen said.

The focus for the company in 2013 will be to push into new markets, such as Des Moines, acquire new production line equipment to improve efficiency, and expand its private label manufacturing, Guardiola said.

“The way I see it is if a company doesn’t grow, it dies,” he said.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com.

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