Frozen burrito company Cartel Food Co continues its impressive rise in the New Zealand frozen food market with an average yearly growth of 60%.
Founded in 2015 by husband and wife duo, Jason and Melissa Phillips, Cartel Food Co was inspired by both a gap spotted in the market, and Jason’s time growing up in Southern California.
“Originally, we were going to launch a fresh burrito kit, but decided after doing a bit of research that there was an opportunity – there was a plethora of Mexican food coming out, but nothing in the frozen category. Frozen burritos in Southern California are like sausage rolls in New Zealand, a really common convenience food,” explained Melissa Phillips.
From there the couple engaged a contract manufacturer for two years but quickly outgrew its capabilities.
“We managed to secure a national supermarket, Foodstuffs, both North and South Island so at that point we decided we were going to manufacture ourselves and went about setting up our food factory. Then COVID hit and that prompted us to realise the food factory was not big enough, so we have just moved into our second one.”
Cartel Food Co moved to a factory five times larger than its previous space. The new factory is in Martinborough, and employs 10 staff, which is a significant increase from a single employee four years ago.
With the company’s expansion comes three additional burritos – Chilli Con Carne, Chipotle Chicken and Fried Beans and Cheese. These flavours are sized at 185g, opposed to the usual 200g, and will be sold heated and exclusively at select petrol stations and convenience stores.
“We felt that wherever you can buy a pie you should be able to buy a burrito. We found some independent dairies, convenience stores and petrol stations to trial, and have been selling well. We brought our new range with different flavours and different sizes to target the petrol and convenience market specifically,” said Phillips.
To enter this channel, they have decided to partner with Focus Distribution (owned by Goodtime Pies). A perfect synergy given their current distribution and knowledge of the pie market. Despite its progression into the petrol and convenience channel, Cartel Food Co has not taken its foot off the gas with regard to the frozen sector and is currently in conversation with one of the major supermarket chains to potentially gain compulsory ranging.
Its current frozen range includes Chilli Lime Chicken, Vegetarian Beans and Cheese, Poblano Chilli Lime Pulled Pork, Smokey Chipotle Beef and Vegan Black Bean and Roasted Corn Chilli Lime Tofu.
What started with a love of Mexican food and an eye for an opportunity, Melissa and Jason are immensely proud of the company’s trajectory.
“We’re a husband and wife team who started and made 200 burritos with the plan of national burrito domination. Six years later we’ve had significant growth. In the first four months of this year, we sold more than we did in the first two years. We’re also really proud to be a local employer in a small town.”