CMN

July 14, 2017
For a listing of previous Retail Watch stories, please see our Retail Watch Archive.

Rizo-Lopez Foods adds new brand, makes plans to expand product reach Rizo Bros. California Creamery brand targets Anglo consumers

HISPANIC CHEESE FOCUS — Fresco, Oaxaca and Cotija are among the many Hispanic cheese varieties offered by Rizo-Lopez Foods.

CUTILIZING HISPANIC CHEESE — With a new branded line, Rizo-Lopez Foods is hoping to better reach non-Hispanic consumers and show them how to use authentic Hispanic cheeses in a variety of foods.

By Kate Sander

MODESTO, Calif. — Rizo-Lopez Foods Inc., best known for its Don Francisco brand, is expanding its presence in the Anglo retail market with Hispanic and Italian cheeses. It also is introducing organic cheeses.

Founded by brothers Ivan and Edwin Francisco Rizo a little more than a quarter century ago, Rizo-Lopez Foods utilizes Old World recipes and traditional techniques to make an assortment of products. The company not only manufactures Mexican- and Central American-style cheeses, but also supplies creams, meats, beverages and desserts to its customers, applying strong management and technical expertise to create a solid, well-run company, says Tomas Rizo, sales representative and a second generation member of the family who operates the business.

Rizo-Lopez Foods was founded in 1990 after Ivan and Edwin Francisco Rizo, fleeing unrest in their native Nicaragua, immigrated to the United States in the 1980s and began a co-pack and distribution business in Riverbank, California.

From there they have parlayed their skills into the quintessential American success story, building their business, expanding into cheese production and — five years ago — opening a new facility in Modesto to keep up with growing demand. The new facility can process 140,000 gallons of Grade A milk a day, but still focuses on making authentic, traditional products that taste the same now as they did to Ivan and Edwin’s grandparents, Tomas Rizo says. Using recipes from Mexico and Central America, the company combines traditional artisan manufacturing techniques with stringent U.S. manufacturing standards.


“One of the objectives
for us is to make
the Hispanic cheese
experience
more mainstream.”

Vars Injijian
RIZO-LOPEZ FOODS INC.


Up until recently, the authentic Hispanic cheeses primarily have been marketed toward Hispanic companies and consumers. The company has predominantly focused on bulk Hispanic cheeses including Queso Fresco, Oaxaca and Panela, which are used in a variety of foodservice products. It also sells branded product and has a supermarket presence throughout California, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Washington, Illinois, North Carolina, Oregon, Nevada and Texas. The company has had particular success in Hispanic-focused grocery stores, Tomas Rizo says.

With the move into the Modesto manufacturing facility, the company also has been able to successfully make headway in co-packing with a number of private label customers. While maintaining its bulk customer base, the company steadily has been adding retail package customers. Now Rizo-Lopez Foods sees additional opportunity to expand its retail presence both under private label and under its new Rizo Bros. California Creamery brand name targeted toward Anglo consumers.

“It’s a new market for us where we see growth opportunities,” says Tomas Rizo, who has an MBA and worked in coffee and wine before rejoining the family cheese business he worked in as a teen.

Rizo-Lopez Foods has launched its classic Mexican cheeses, recrafted for the way Anglo American consumers eat. These include retail-size packages of Cotija, Oaxaca and Queso Fresco. The chunks of authentic Mexican cheeses come in 8-ounce packs, and a 1-ounce serving contains 80 to 90 calories, 6 to 7 grams of fat and 5 to 7 grams of protein, depending on variety. The products are essentially the same as they have been — same taste, same quality — but configured and marketed in a way that non-Hispanic consumers will feel more comfortable in picking up and buying.

“One of the objectives for us is to make the Hispanic cheese experience more mainstream,” says Vars Injijian, national sales director, Rizo-Lopez Foods.


“We’re always doing
new things.”

Tomas Rizo
RIZO-LOPEZ FOODS INC.


Rizo notes that U.S. consumers, particularly millennials, are becoming more interested in using authentic Hispanic cheeses — not Colby Jack mixes — in products.

“We want the specialty cheese buyer/merchandiser to display our retail packs along with all the other varieties found on the specialty cheese kiosks that represent countries from around the world,” Injijian says. “Cotija chunk and/or grated can be substituted for Italian Parmesan on pasta and hot dishes, Queso Fresco substituted for Farmers cheese and, of course, our award-winning Oaxaca is a favorite for both snacking cold as a Mexican Style String Cheese or used in quesadillas, with a Mozzarella-style stretchy melt. We also manufacture a Queso Para Frier, a.k.a., frying cheese, that rivals Haloumi, a similar product from Cypress.”

The company also plans to market its products to other cultures as well. Many cultures around the world, especially Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, are familiar with Hispanic-style cheeses because they emulate the varieties they are accustomed to, albiet under different labels and packs, Injijian says, noting that he recently returned from a trip to Asia where he noted that consumers are trending toward Mexican cuisine as well. Moving forward the company will focus on this trade as well as the mainstream, Injijian says.

The company’s goal is to show non-Hispanic consumers how to use authenic Hispanic food products. To that end, under the Rizo Bros. California Creamery brand, the company is looking at changing its packaging to make it more user friendly, including putting Oaxaca in packaging that — instead of just a ball — makes its use as a string-type cheese more evident, Rizo says.

In general, Rizo-Lopez Foods has the capacity to continue looking at ways to develop new products and new packaging and make the use of Hispanic cheese more intuitive.

Line extensions are always in the works, not just for cheese but also for products like its flan, Rizo says.

“We’re always doing new things,” Rizo says.


“Our products aren’t
necessarily the
cheapest, but we
offer good prices
and strong
customer service.
We offer quality,
and we have customer loyalty.”

Tomas Rizo
RIZO-LOPEZ FOODS INC.


As Rizo-Lopez Foods has expanded its capabilities and ability to work with private label customers, it also has begun procuring organic milk and is beginning to offer some organic products to further expand its product line. This includes organic Oaxaca for foodservice, as well as Mozzarella and Ricotta in organic and non-orgranic formats for foodservice and retail.

The company’s passion for quality isn’t just evidenced by what it says — the proof is in the rice pudding it makes, or more accurately in the awards it has won.

Over the years, the company has won a number of awards including a gold medal for its Queso Oaxaca in the 2008 World Championship Cheese Contest and a gold medal for its Queso Fresco in the 2007 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest. It not only wins awards for cheese; in 2010, Don Francisco Strawberry Banana Drinkable Yogurt won first place in its class at the World Dairy Expo competition. The company also has won numerous other awards in local and state competitions.

The company is SQF certified and also produces non-GMO products for customers, Rizo says. If a customer is looking for price-driven products, Rizo-Lopez Foods isn’t necessarily it, Rizo says, but if a customer is looking for quality that stands apart, Rizo-Lopez Foods can fulfill those needs for foodservice, private label or under the Don Francisco or Rizo Bros. California Creamery brands.

“Our products aren’t necessarily the cheapest, but we offer good prices and strong customer service. We offer quality, and we have customer loyalty,” Rizo says.

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