Business

A Boise firm you’ve never heard of makes tortillas you eat. To make more, it will move

Growing Fresca Mexican Foods to expand with Caldwell plant

Fresca Mexican Foods makes millions of tortillas each day that wind up in restaurants on campuses around the country. The company expects to more than double its capacity when it moves from Boise to a bigger plant in Caldwell in 2018.
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Fresca Mexican Foods makes millions of tortillas each day that wind up in restaurants on campuses around the country. The company expects to more than double its capacity when it moves from Boise to a bigger plant in Caldwell in 2018.

Chances are, you’ve eaten dozens of tortillas made without any idea they were made by Boise’s own Fresca Mexican Foods.

Most days, about 3 million tortillas are produced and packaged at the company’s plant at 11193 Emerald St. The company sells a small number of tortillas under its Tortilla Revolution retail brand, available locally in the frozen foods section at Whole Foods, the Boise Co-op and Rosauers in Meridian.

But most are sold to wholesalers, including Sysco and Food Services of America, and to restaurants. Local restaurants carrying Fresca include Taco John’s, Taco Time and Fork. Universities and schools, including the Boise School District, serve them too.

Fresca is one of several tortilla makers in and around the Treasure Valley. They include two family-owned companies: the 40-year-old Casa Valdez Inc. in Caldwell and the 62-year-old Rodriguez Bakery Inc. in Nyssa, Oregon, which began making tortillas in 2010.

Andy Savin, president and CEO, had no food-manufacturing experience when he and a group of investors bought Fresca in 2007. He had worked as chief financial officer at several companies and as a managing partner at Buck Creek Capital in Seattle.

He saw opportunity in the food sector and spent two years scouring the Northwest for a promising company to buy. He found Fresca. He liked the “inherent stability of the food industry” and the growth of the nation’s Hispanic population.

“More importantly, the rest of the population was adopting tortillas, both for Mexican and non-Mexican applications,” he said. “I felt it would be a great category for many years to come.”

The business wasn’t for sale, but Savin, now 54, approached the owner, George Colwell, and made an offer. Colwell and Taco Time franchisee Bill Reed started Fresca Mexican Foods in 1977 because Reed was unsatisfied with the tortillas available for his franchises. Colwell later bought out his partner. When Savin came along, Colwell agreed to sell.

Since then, sales have more than doubled. They are “building to about $50 million” per year, Savin said. Fresca distributes to at least 15 states and Puerto Rico and exports to Canada, Australia, South Africa, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

The company has automated parts of its tortilla production but still has about 170 employees. Its heat-press tortilla lines operate 24 hours a day five or six days a week. Lines producing hand-stretched, corn and flour tortillas work in shifts totaling 12 to 17 hours per day.

The company has outgrown its 82,000-square-foot plant. Savin spent two years looking for vacant property or plant that could be retrofitted for the production lines, which have grown longer and taller over the years.

Unable to find anything in Boise, Savin bought 20 acres from the Caldwell Urban Renewal Agency in the Sky Ranch Business Park for a new, 200,000-square-foot plant. Located at 2009 Smeed Parkway, the plant will allow Fresca to expand production to 6 million to 8 million tortillas per day with plenty of space for future expansion, Savin said. The plant is under construction, scheduled to open in August 2018.

Savin said the company received incentives to relocate to Caldwell and credited the city’s staff for fast-tracking the building-application process.

“We got approval within a couple of weeks, which was remarkable,” he said.

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