Companies around the country are looking to pulses, spice, and shorter ingredient lists in a quest to reach the natural shopper. But what about the brands that have been doing as much from the start? For whom this is not trendy, but part of their DNA?
Bueno Foods — which is now celebrating its 65th anniversary — is one such brand. The New Mexico-based food company has always maintained a mission of keeping its Mexican heritage alive by using traditional processing methods and authentic ingredients, but the brand has also remained ahead of what are now resonant dietary trends.
“New Mexican cuisine is inherently healthy with a sound nutritional base of corn, beans and chile,” said Ana Baca, Bueno’s VP of Marketing and Communications. “We’ve always had a healthy respect for ‘the old ways’ not only because we wish to maintain our New Mexico culinary heritage but because ‘the old ways’ have value, specifically in terms of nutritional value.”
The brand is carried in retailers including Whole Foods Market, Sprouts, Albertsons, Earth Fare, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage and many independent co-ops. It has more than 275 workers, not including hundreds of seasonal employees.
The company has over 150 products and in 2006 launched Buenatural, a natural line extension. While the sub-brand is still growing in SKUs, the product list contains unique options such as frozen organic red chile vegan tamales, three ingredient, organic, non-GMO corn tortillas and organic ancient grain tortillas.
Ana Baca is one of the four siblings now running the family owned company. She believes that the Buenatural was a natural extension for the brand.
To maintain the inherent nutritional benefits, Bueno has steered clear of the refined corn flour used by many tortilla brands. Instead, the company developed an automated system to stone grind corn. Bueno also claims to be the first company to develop commercial equipment to flame roast and freeze New Mexico’s famous green chiles, allowing this once-a-year prized crop to be utilized year-round.
By keeping an eye on dietary trends, Bueno has also managed to stay one step ahead of the competition. In the 1960s the brand developed blue corn tortillas and in the 1980s had one of the first blue-corn tortilla chips on the market. Bueno also released whole wheat tortillas decades ago in the 1970s.
Under the second generation of Baca leadership, sales have taken off and are ten-fold higher. This upward mobility looks to continue as the Millennial Generation, which prizes authenticity and is more adventurous seeking out global flavors, hits the grocery aisles.
“The Millennial generation in general is one that has been exposed to multicultural foods and other cultures via travel and Internet exposure from a younger age,” said Baca. “They have embraced many of the trends including healthy eating, multicultural foods, local foods, farm to table restaurants, reducing the carbon footprint, etc. and therefore have embraced our foods.”
At the same time, other brands have entered the market, also hoping to capitalize on the same trends that Bueno helped establish. For Bueno, there’s no option other than staying the course, even, she warns as the foods of native communities are “a way of life that’s slowly disappearing.”
“Maintaining this tradition is a way to connect our company to our community,” she said, “a way to preserve our cultural identity.”