Kind founder Daniel Lubetzky is teaming up with two former snack brand executives to launch a Mexican food company based on the food they ate growing up.
Somos, which means “we are” in Spanish, is now accepting bulk orders from grocery stores and retailers, hoping its range of rice, beans, salsas, chips and plant-based dishes will hit shelves here. January. The company’s e-commerce site begins selling its fries and salsas on Tuesday.
Lubetzky teamed up with former Kind marketing director Miguel Leal and former product innovation manager Rodrigo Zuloaga to create Somos. Leal, who is the CEO of Somos, previously worked for food companies including Cholula, Danone, Diamond Foods and PepsiCo’s Frito Lay. All three men were born and raised in Mexico.
Somos’ line does not include any meat, gluten or genetically modified ingredients, taking a page out of Kind’s playbook. Lubetzky founded the snack company in 2004, touting its bars as healthier than the competition. Last year, Snickers maker Mars bought Kind North America in a deal that reportedly valued it at around $5 billion. Lubetzky retained a stake in the company and is still its executive chairman.
“We are always surprised at the lack of authenticity in Mexican cuisine,” Leal said. “Most of the food that exists in [consumer packaged goods] is Cal-Mex or Tex-Mex, not the food we grew up on. We just thought there was a great opportunity to bring ingredients, techniques, real Mexican food made in Mexico, cooked the Mexican way, to the market.”
Lubetzky said he and Leal used to joke about the differences between their childhood food in Mexico and what was defined as Mexican food in the United States.
“Here in America, in Mexican cuisine, they put this yellow shredded cheese,” he said. “In Mexico, it’s fresh white cheese.”
According to Lubetzky, the American restaurant scene is “15, 20 years ahead” of what’s available on grocery store shelves, which he says were stuck in the 1970s. According to the Foodservice Research Company CHD Expert, approximately 65,000 restaurants – or 7% of all US restaurants – are dedicated to Mexican cuisine, as of 2020.
According to Jeffrey Pilcher, a professor of food history at the University of Toronto, American consumers began eating Mexican food in earnest in the 19th century as railroads ferried tourists to the southwest. By the 20th century, Chicago meat packers had begun making chili and selling it in cans, slowly stripping the food of its Mexican identity and making it a staple in the United States. Restaurateurs like Taco Bell founder Glen Bell then focused on tacos, paving the way for food brands like Old El Paso to begin selling their Tex-Mex foods in supermarkets nationwide.
Somos positions itself as a brand that does not sell Americanized Mexican food, but instead uses traditional cooking techniques to appeal to consumers and create tastier options. Leal said the company fire-roasts vegetables for its salsas, stone-grinds its corn and slow-cooks its beans. Somos is also nixtamalizing its corn, a process that involves cooking dried corn in an alkaline solution to improve its flavor and increase its nutritional value.
Kind Founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky speaking at CNBC’s iConic conference in Boston.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
“It’s just different from the different tortilla chips you see in aisle nine,” Lubetzky said.
The Somos co-founders also contrast their Mexican heritage with other national food brands that sell taco kits and seasonings, which are usually owned by American conglomerates. General Mills owns Old El Paso, Ortega is part of B&G Foods, and ConAgra Foods bought Frontera Foods several years ago. Chi-Chi’s is a joint venture between Hormel Foods and Mexican company Herdez Del Fuerte. Even Leal’s former employer, Cholula, is owned by McCormick, which also sells taco seasoning kits.
Of course, most supermarkets in the United States now also carry smaller or regional brands made in Mexico or created by Mexican Americans. For example, Mexican immigrants founded Cacique in 1973 and have since made it the largest fresh cheese maker in the United States.
The question of authenticity in Mexican cuisine is one that even major American brands have grappled with. Pilcher said he had previously been hired by a major food company as a consultant to help them create “more authentic” Mexican dishes, although he said nothing came of it.
“I think they were trying to decide if it was worth marketing to the immigrant population that was becoming significant at the time I was having this conversation,” Pilcher said.
According to Gustavo Arellano, author of “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America” and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, the demand for authenticity has helped make Mexican food a multi-billion dollar industry.
“As long as there is Mexican food in the United States, Americans eat it to the point of assimilating it into their own diet and then demanding something more ‘authentic,'” he said. declared.
Now Somos is ready to sell its version of authentic Mexican food to American consumers and take its own slice of the market.
“A lot of people cook with these ingredients, but they’re looking for authenticity and a story,” Leal said.