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Raquelitas Tortillas

Tuesday, October 22, 2019
filed under: Utilization/Trade

      Raquelitas Tortillas has been in business since the 1940s, and the company has been in the DeLaTorre family since 1960. Rich Schneider and his brother, Raul DeLaTorre, took over the business from their father, and they’ve worked to improve their products ever since. 
       Rich says one of their biggest improvements was making the switch to sunflower oil in all their flour tortillas.  He admits the change was an accident — but it’s an accident that forever changed his company for the better.  Jody Kerzman talked with Schneider about Raquelitas Tortillas.
Explain the idea behind your product.
       My brother and I have been making tortillas our whole lives.  Our product focus is on food service, not retail, so we are probably in a couple thousand restaurants in Colorado and in a few surrounding states.  
       We used to ship one of our over 100-plus products to every state except for Hawaii, but demand was so great right here in our home state of Colorado that we decided to focus on our local Colorado customers.  That really helped us focus and better serve our niche.
       But as I said, using sunflower oil in our flour tortillas was sort of an accident. We had sunflower oil on hand; we were first using it to fry our chips. We were using palm shortening in our tortillas at that time, and that palm shortening was being shipped to us from out of state as obviously palm is not a Colorado-grown crop. 
       One day about five years ago, the truck bringing our shortening was late. We needed to keep making tortillas, so I thought, “Let’s try using sunflower oil.” We mixed it in, and those tortillas came out great!  Of course, there are some differences between shortening and oil, so we ended up decreasing the amount of oil we used in our tortillas, which in turn meant we had a lower fat tortilla.  I wish I could tell you this was our plan by design all along, but it really was a total accident!
How do you now use sunflower in your product?
       As I mentioned, we started using it only in our fried tortilla chips.  From there it migrated to the only shortening in our flour tortillas.  It helps our tortillas be more flexible at room temperature, and they contain substantially less fat. 
Why have you stuck with sunflower oil?
       Sunflower oil allows us to offer local, premium ingredients, a lower-fat product, and it helps improve the shelf life of our chips and provides flexibility in our flour tortillas. 
       When we made the switch to sunflower oil, we never looked back; we don’t even bring in the palm shortening we used to use anymore.  It seems like often times those of us in food manufacturing are running from an ingredient, trying to keep up with the demands of our customers.  As we embraced sunflower oil, we found it was an ingredient we could run to. It is exactly what so many consumers are looking for: it is non-GMO, it is a local product, and there are no trans-fatty acids. 
       As I researched it more, I couldn’t find a single reason not to use sunflower oil in our tortillas. It is clearly a more beneficial oil, except for the price. It’s more expensive than what we were using.  We did raise our prices, but we also explained to our customers why the price was going up, and they had no issue with the increase.  They knew they were getting a healthier tortilla. 
       Most of our tortillas are actually not used in Mexican restaurants; in fact, they are used by chefs who consider themselves “culinary activists” and are looking for local, premium ingredients and something that has a cool story. They don’t want a regular off-the-shelf type thing. That’s why using sunflower oil in our tortillas just makes sense.
Rich Schneider of Rquelitas Tortillas (Photo courtesy Colorado Mills)
From where do you source the sunflower oil you use?
       We get our sunflower oil exclusively from Colorado Mills (in Lamar).  There is a difference; they approach their oil like we do our tortillas and chips.  It is a local product, and we have developed a great relationship with Colorado Mills. We print their logo on our boxes at our own expense. We want people to know what a good oil this is and that it’s available here in Colorado. We want to do our part to spread the word. 
       People are noticing.  We really beat the “buy local” drum here; so in addition to Colorado Mills for our oil, all our wheat flours are from Colorado wheat fields using Ardent Mills. We use an heirloom Indian corn grown on Bow & Arrow farms located on an Indian Reservation in Colorado.  We are involved in a radio podcast show called “The Modern Eater” produced in Denver from our own Studio Kitchen Colorado that’s all about Colorado: how to use and buy Colorado-grown ingredients. We just think it’s cool to make stuff from locally grown products. 
Why do your products stand out?
      It sounds funny to talk this way about a tortilla, but it is innovative design and disciplined execution.  All of our product development is striving for us to make a better tortilla than is expected.  That can come from: 
  • Process (running lines at the ultimate speed for quality not efficiency).
  • Ingredients (sourcing local, premium and with a great story).
  • Finished product specs (thicker, more durable, deeper and richer flavors, more flexibility). 
What kinds of challenges have you faced along the way?
       We were ahead of the curve on using sunflower oil, and at first a lot of what we were telling people was falling on deaf ears.  Now, years later, we look like innovators, which is something we want to be. 
Approximately how much sunflower oil do you use each year? 
       We use approximately 250,000 pounds of sunflower oil annually.
What market segments do you supply?
       We serve foodservice only.  In that segment, you’ll find our tortillas primarily in the white tablecloth, fine dining segment.  Our products are in neighborhood restaurants, food trucks, premier lodging hotels, world-class resorts, convenience stores, airport restaurants and health care restaurants throughout Colorado. 
What are the latest trends in each market segment you serve? 
       We find that our customers are looking for products made with hyper-local ingredients. Products that have a unique story are even more appealing to our customers. They also want products that are addressing environmental sustainability and are nutritionally legitimate overall recipes. 
What is your customer’s perception of sunflower oil? 
       Many have now introduced it into their kitchen fryers and sauté pans after seeing the results in our products.  We have chefs and restaurant people coming to our manufacturing center all the time. We love to show them what we do and why. And we are always quick to tell them our oil comes from Colorado Mills.  People see that, and we know they’ve made the switch after seeing the sunflower oil in our kitchen.  
Are there any new offerings, new products in the works? 
       We are not offering anything new right now.  Our current focus is trying to keep up with demand. 
Are you doing advertising, PR, social media or grassroots efforts to promote your product? If yes, what?
       We made the investment in the better ingredients and processes; we’d better do a great job of telling the story of why we do what we do, otherwise it may be all for nothing.  This benefits our customers, too, because they too now have a better more compelling story to tell their customers. 
       I am involved in with a local food show called “The Modern Eater” where we talk and promote the Colorado foodservice industry.  We advertise in that show.  We also post many things on our Facebook page and my personal page.  I am involved and sit on the board of many local organizations that advocate on behalf of my customers, such as the Colorado Restaurant Association, Colorado Restaurant Foundation, Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, We Don’t Waste (food recovery and redistribution), American Culinary Federation, Pueblo Community College, and the Cherry Creek Innovative Campus. 
       And of course, visit our website,, to learn more.
What does the future hold for Raquelitas Tortillas?
       I think we are pointed in the right direction in many facets of our tortilla business — and are really advancing in the business of lifting others in our industry, whether through education, advocating to local governments, awareness of trends and even the health and well-being of the thousands of hard working people in our intense industry.  
       This sounds kind of bold, but rather than just being on the right side of history, we are trying to help write that history. We want our business and careers to have mattered and made a positive impact beyond the physical size, the square footage of our business, or the sales dollars we generated.                                         
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