IRVINE, Calif. -- El Torito Restaurants is using its 45th-anniversary celebration to roll out a line of signature products to retail shelves in southern California.
Albertson's, Boise, Idaho; Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif.; Lucky Stores, Buena Park, Calif.; Stater Bros. Markets, Colton, Calif.; and Vons, Pleasanton, Calif., along with retail units supplied by Los Angeles-based Certified Grocers of California have added the line of Mexican cuisine products to their shelves.
El Torito, a subsidiary of Prandium Inc., based here, signed a licensing agreement in 1998 with Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods Corp. with the intention of bringing some of the restaurant's most popular menu items to retail stores. Hormel worked closely with El Torito's executive chef Pepe Lopez to create the line of salsas, salad dressings, enchilada sauces, fajita, taco and guacamole seasonings and sweet corn cake mix for distribution to supermarkets in southern California.
"Restaurant branding is very successful generally speaking," said Jeff Grev, group marketing manager for new products at Hormel. "And when you have a strong brand name, with a history of success in the restaurant industry, branding a line of products is a natural transition and is only giving the restaurant more exposure."
The line includes three salad dressings including El Torito's signature Cilantro Pepita Dressing as well as Serrano Ranch and fat-free Serrano Grape Vinaigrette; enchilada sauces in fire-roasted tomato, fire-roasted green chile, red bell pepper and tomatillo; and seasoning mixes like taco, fajita and guacamole. Grev said the special thing about the seasoning packets is that the consumers can adjust the amount of serrano pepper they desire.
"It's just like in the restaurants where the guacamole is made tableside and guests can request hot, medium or mild," he said. "You can add all of it if you like a little heat or just add a third of it if you like it more mild and so on."
Finally, the sweet corn cake mix strives to add a touch of authenticity to American dinner tables. Grev said the corn cake is similar in nature to bread pudding, "but I don't think that does it justice. You scoop it out of the pan with an ice cream scoop and it's got this great, unique, sweet flavor. It's really very good."
Ed Engoron, president of Los Angeles-based Perspectives - Consulting Group, said features like this are key when pleasing the consumer because "it gives [them] the opportunity to put something on their table at home that gives a restaurant-quality experience."
He added that, in surveys conducted by his firm, the one thing retail consumers consistently give high marks to are better-tasting products.
The products are being manufactured at several Hormel production plants following recipes that are virtually identical to those used in the restaurants. Grev said only minor alterations were necessary to ready the recipes for retail distribution and sale.
"Some very slight tweaks to the recipes were necessary because when they prepare them for the restaurants, they are prepared fresh," he said. "You don't necessarily have to change the formulation dramatically, but you may have to add ingredients to be sure the product maintains its shelf stability."
Hormel has experience in branding restaurant products, and Mexican in particular. In 1987, Hormel was instrumental in bringing the Chi-Chi's line of products to grocery shelves across the country. Chi-Chi's is also a subsidiary of Prandium and one that Engoron cited as a successful example of restaurant branding.
"The consumers assume that Chi-Chi's or El Torito wouldn't put their name on anything if it wasn't of equal quality to the foods they get in their restaurants," he said. "Then again, the restaurant name may guarantee the first sale, but the quality has to be there for there to be a second. Chi-Chi's does quite well and El Torito has a very good brand identity in this marketplace."
According to Grev, no stores are shelving the full line in one location but rather placing the different products in areas where customers are already shopping for such an item. The salad dressings are being carried with the other salad dressings, the salsas and enchilada sauces are in the Mexican sauces section, the seasoning packets are with the other seasonings and the sweet corn cake mix is being sold in either the bakery aisle or the Mexican section, at the discretion of the individual store. Grev said the cake mix has been very successful in both areas.
"Basically, the message to the consumer is this: 'Here are the products you've come to know and love in the restaurants, and now you can have them at home too,' " he said.