CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Bashas' supermarkets and one of its suppliers -- a small, celebrated, family-owned Mexican restaurant operator and food manufacturer -- have formed a partnership to expand the company's line of ready-to-eat Mexican foods already sold in the supermarkets.
The agreement will also lead to the development of a new, private-label line for Bashas', according to officials.
The two companies have formed the Grupo Flores/Bashas' management group to oversee Chonita Foods, a food-manufacturing facility in Tucson that supplies the Mexican specialties featured on the menu of El Charro Restaurants, a popular and famous, three-store chain celebrating its 80th birthday this year. The formation of the new company is the result of nearly a year of discussion between the principals at Bashas' and El Charro/Chonita, both family-owned companies in this region.
"The great taste of El Charro food is well-known by generations of southern Arizonans," said Eddie Basha, chairman of the board of Bashas' Inc., a 130-store chain, in a prepared statement. "This partnership will make chef Carlotta Flores' recipes available through food items prepared in a [U.S. Department of Agriculture]-approved facility. It combines the incredible flavor of the Southwest with the consistent quality ensured by USDA-supervised production."
Bashas' did not return phone calls from SN.
Chonita supplies items such as tamales, Spanish rice, refried beans, chili con carne and chile verde to the delis in 30 to 40 Bashas' and Food City supermarkets, Bashas' Hispanic format banner. Under the auspices of the new company, Chonita will create new products to meet the retailer's needs, under a private label, and expand its reach into more stores in the chain, an official told SN.
"We'll develop more products for them through research and development," said Raymon Flores, president of El Charro/Chonita.
The agreement also means the foods will be prepared solely at El Charro/Chonita's food-manufacturing facility, which serves as a commissary for the stores, Flores said. The plant, which employs 35 people, most likely will have to expand to meet the increased demand.
The deal is potentially lucrative for El Charro/Chonita. It is expected to triple the food company's sales volume, Flores added, declining to reveal any dollar figures.
"It increases our exposure to the rest of Bashas' stores," Flores said, adding the company first started supplying Bashas' with selected products more than three years ago. "We've sold products to them under a generic label. Now we'll develop a private label for them."
Offered primarily in the deli departments, Chonita's products will be available in both self-serve cases and at the service counters. Certain items, such as chile con carne and rice and beans, will be sold by the pound and packaged as part of a meal, Flores said. Chonita's products should be rolled out at all of Bashas' stores within the next six to 12 months, he said, adding that they will sell its products to Bashas' exclusively. "We're trying to help them gain a competitive advantage," Flores said.
Flores' mother, Carlotta, a certified research chef, cookbook author, and grand niece of the restaurant's founder, oversees food preparation at the 8,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. Many of Chonita's foods sold at Bashas' are derived from the recipes used at the restaurants, Flores said.
The El Charro restaurants are famous for fragrant carne seca beef, a Tucson favorite, and huge topopo salads. In 1998, Carlotta Flores shared her family's recipes, along with family anecdotes and Mexican-American cultural highlights in a 144-page book, "El Charro Cafe: The Tastes and Traditions of Tucson." The history of El Charro Cafe and a collection of recipes are assembled in the soon-to-be-released, "El Charro Cafe Cookbook: Flavors of Tucson from America's Oldest Family-Operated Mexican Restaurant" by nationally recognized food authorities, Jane and Michael Stern. The 240-page book is scheduled to be published in November.