Focused on quality and low cost, Xtra Congelados Naturales, a Mexico-based company specializing in frozen vegetable products, made its mark in the international arena. Rachel Hartman takes an inside look at this leading company and what makes it a leader.
Several decades ago, you wouldn’t find broccoli grown in Mexico. However, that changed when a Mexican company – Xtra Congelados Naturales, S.A. de C.V., which specializes in the production of frozen vegetables for the international market – planted broccoli in 100 hectares of land. “Our two processing plants were the first to produce, and then freeze, broccoli,” says Guillermo García Rábago, the company’s general manager, speaking about an edible commodity that enhanced that nation’s dinner plate.
The first crop of broccoli yielded approximately two million pounds. Over time, that number increased greatly. Today Xtra Congelados Naturales produces not only broccoli but also cauliflower, green zucchini, and yellow squash. Annual production rate is about 300 million pounds of fresh vegetables, which results in 180 million pounds of frozen products.
The majority of vegetables that Xtra Congelados Naturales grows are found in what’s called the “El Bajío”, Mexico’s breadbasket region, which covers the states of Guanajuato, Querétaro, and Aguascalientes. The company’s two processing plants are set up in the state of Guanajuato. One resides in the city of Celaya; the other is located in León, the home of Xtra Congelados Naturales headquarters, where the firm employs more than 1,500 workers.
HOMEGROWN – IN MEXICO
Xtra Congelados Naturales is affiliated to Grupo Altex, one of Mexico’s largest agro-industrial groups. The fresh-focused conglomerate consists of 13 plants dedicated to processing wheat, fruit and vegetables – and producing related products.
Grupo Altex was formed in 1986, as a subsidiary of Grupo Bimbo, the world’s largest baking company. Grupo Altex supplied raw materials and other services to Grupo Bimbo. By the end of 1999, Grupo Altex became an independent group – a status that allowed it to flourish as vibrantly as something growing from the ground.
Today, working under the corporative system of Grupo Altex, Xtra Congelados Naturales processes two product types. Some of its vegetables undergo IQF (individually quick frozen) methods. For this process, each vegetable piece is frozen individually before packaging. Piece sizes range from a 3/8 to a two-inch measurement.
Once frozen, vegetables are packed into loads weighing 800 to 1,300 pounds. The goods are sent on to industrial clients, often as a repackaged product. The broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and squash are sent to the United States and placed into a “mixed vegetable” bag. The final product – which might include carrots, corn, peas, and beans, in addition to the vegetables provided by
Xtra Congelados Naturales – is then sent to final customers At its processing plants in Mexico, Xtra Congelados Naturales boasts capacity to repack vegetables after they have undergone IQF treatment. The mixed products are then packaged into bags weighing between 10 ounces and three pounds.
The company also has a wet pack line, wherein frozen vegetables are packed into containers that measure between eight and 10 ounces. Wet pack goods can also be packaged into boxes weighing between and 2.5 pounds. The advantage is readily evident, as these packages are sold to food service clients, especially restaurants and hospitals. Wet pack products are also directed to supermarkets and other retailers, where they are sold to consumers.
Xtra Congelados Naturales does not produce individual brands, but it does work to satisfy clients according to specific needs. This has resulted in significant growth, stemming from factors such as a strong emphasis on quality. “We fulfill the requirements of the client in a 100-percent level, and we also meet all of the government-placed food regulations, both in Mexico and the countries where we export our frozen vegetables,” says García.
Xtra Congelados Naturales exports products, currently shipping frozen vegetables to clients in the United States, Japan and Canada.
It’s an international market that the company strives to maintain, and it achieves this via focus on quality and specific customer requirements.
“That makes us a leader in local, national and international markets for frozen vegetables,” notes García.
In 2012, Xtra Congelados Naturales received recognition in Mexico for its exporting strength. It was honored with the Premio Naciona de Exportación as being Mexico’s best 2012 exporter in the large agro-industrial sector.
With an emphasis on high quality at a low cost, the company has maintained a competitive edge in the international market. In the Asian market, we’re talking about Japan, which stays ahead of competition from nearby China. But there’s an ongoing challenge. “In the Americas, particularly in the North America – especially with the United States – we face a high amount of competition, not only from local processors in Mexico, but also from processors in Ecuador and Guatemala,” says García.
Even with this competition, Xtra Congelados Naturales maintained its market position, even in terms of growth volume. During the past five years, the company has enjoyed a 20-percent growth rate. “We consider this important, especially given factors such as the economic situation in the United States during the last years,” indicates García.
A MAIN DIFFERENTIATOR: GREEN AND NEW TECHNOLOGY
For the crops that it grows, the company also maintains a strong focus on caring for the environment. It ensures reasonable water usage and energy consumption. It also practices safe pesticide methods. “Everything we use for pest control in the field has been labeled ‘green’”, says García. This green mark means the product is both eco-friendly and not harmful to humans, he reminds.
To maintain its role as leader in Mexico’s frozen vegetables sector, Xtra Congelados Naturales continually invests in technology. During 2010 and 2011, the company allotted more than $3 million in its processing plants. In 2012, it is on track to invest an estimated $2.5 million. “We invest in technology geared toward improving quality and productivity,” García explains. The strategy results in the set-up of the latest freezing systems, modern control systems, methods to protect the environment, and systems to improve production rates.
In all that it does, and especially in its efforts to improve and maintain high quality products, the company keeps in mind its goal of providing its customers with a competitively priced product. “We are a low-cost producer focused on customer service,” says García, reminding that a company tagline reads “Altex for you, Xtra for you.”
While caring for the environment is one of the company’s main focuses, caring for its people – that is, its customers – is equally important. “That resides at the center of our culture, our vision and our philosophy,” says García. “Whatever success we’ve achieved resulted from the partnership cooperation, and that emerges from our support network at Grupo Altex and also from our crop suppliers, machinery suppliers, and technology suppliers.”
Looking into the future, García sees a company bright point: “We’re always going to remain competitive,” he envisions, with a prescience that can only come from someone that has been involved in the industry for many years.
How exactly? “We’ll continue to seek ways to provide a superior product, something that far outdistances our competitors’ offerings,” avers García. “We will also offer the best related service to our customers. Business is not just about product: It’s about complementing offerings with the best service.”
Affordability and high quality service – that is what the company provides.
As such, expect Xtra Congelados Naturales to remain viable in a highly competitive international marketplace – in that it will conquer.