Having serviced Mexican lunchrooms for more than 27 years, Mexico city-based Técnicos en Alimentación (TASA) is a food supplier with history, experience, and know-how. Mauricio Chan explains how the company manages to serve thousands of Mexican workers every day.
Jorge Oliver and his partner Antonio Rangel founded TASA in 1975 primarily to serve daily meals to the workers of Liverpool, a Mexican department store that Oliver likens to Macy’s in the U.S. As the client roster grew, so did the company, increasing its payroll to about 1,800 employees at some point in the early 1990s. The company has serviced dining halls located anywhere from buildings housing white-collar workers to state prisons, while always adhering not only to the government’s standards of quality, but its own high norms as well. In addition, TASA has been known to introduce market-changing technologies such as refrigerated transport vehicles, micro-computers for quality control, and a computerized ordering system that centralizes transactions and makes them as efficient as possible.
Yet the road has not always been smooth for the 27-year-old corporation, relates Oliver, who currently heads the board of directors. In fact, the company has had to evolve significantly in order to adapt to market forces. “Back in the early 1990s, TASA was making over $50 million a year in revenue,” he notes. “But as the market declined due to government corruption and mishandling of state-run organizations, we were forced to focus our efforts on the private sector so we would not have to depend on the government so much.”
Currently TASA’s billings total about $20 million a year, 80 percent of which can be attributed to the private sector. Although this is a significant decline from its record revenue number from more than 15 years ago, Oliver believes the mid-sized company, with a payroll of about 620 employees, is headed in the right direction.
As Oliver explains, TASA has always prioritized the safety and quality of its products. “As we service a third-world market, we need to place enormous emphasis on which providers we use and the quality of the products we distribute. We have very rigid policies for our products which often are stricter than those imposed by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) because we are managing people’s health.” In addition, TASA regularly monitors all of its providers’ facilities in terms of hygiene and quality control, often presiding over evaluations of these spaces to ensure adherence to TASA standards.
Raw provisions, once they arrive at TASA’s 2600-square-meter storage facility, go through a rigorous assessment before handling, according to the PEPS principle, which entails that the first materials to arrive are also the first materials to leave. TASA only purchases provisions that have already been allotted to clients to minimize storage time, thus preventing the development of bacteria and other microorganisms. In this manner, no more than five days transpire from the time raw materials arrive at the storage facility to the time they are delivered for consumption, with the average inventory rotation netting out at 3.46 days. This system allows TASA to have only one centralized food storage facility with relatively low inventory levels. “We only store what we will use within the next few days,” notes Oliver. “That way, we are able to maintain our low inventory and minimize losses due to spoilage or even theft. Basically, our merchandise is always fresh.” In addition, TASA boasts of support from internal and external laboratories that perform regular quality tests and ensure optimum bacterial control. The company’s internal lab was the first of its kind in Mexico.
While in storage, strict refrigeration rules are applied to all raw materials, which are divided into five distinct groups. The meaty group is refrigerated at temperatures between two and four degrees Celsius, while the cold cuts and cream products groups are stored at four to six degrees. The fruit and vegetables group reaches the highest refrigeration temperature at six to 10 degrees, while the groceries group is stored at room temperature. To adhere to these rules, TASA’s infrastructure includes 12 refrigeration chambers totaling approximately 120 tons in storage capacity. Including the space reserved for non-refrigerated items, the company’s capacity adds up to nearly 260 tons which, although not terribly high, is more than adequate to house the low levels of inventory TASA traditionally keeps.
Once ready to distribute, meals are transported in specially designed trucks that are one-fifth refrigerated and four-fifths room temperature to better serve the needs of TASA’s clients. The design of these trucks, which feature storage capacities of either four or 12 tons, is based on the ratio of refrigerated to non-refrigerated products for each delivery. Oliver notes TASA has been using this particular type of vehicle for over 25 years: “We were the first food service company to use this kind of refrigerated truck in the world. We had these vehicles made 25, 26 years ago and now their use is fairly common throughout the industry.” Having sections with different temperatures in the same transport has allowed TASA to streamline the process of distribution, as the design allows one truck to service several destinations. With 46 trucks at its disposal, TASA is able to serve over 600,000 meals annually along the 28 routes it is currently running in Mexico City and its vicinities.
TASA’s strict quality standards have earned it the “H” distinctive, a recognition given by the Mexico Ministry of Tourism for appropriate hygiene and food handling. Currently, the company is also undergoing certification for the ISO: 9000, a family of standards for quality management systems maintained by ISO.
TASA has recently expanded its offerings to attract more clientele in Mexico City and its surrounding regions. Specifically, Oliver wants to reach customers within 600 kilometers of the city, which is the area the company can service without compromising the freshness and quality of the products. New offerings include customized meals such as buffets and barbecues, fumigation of dining rooms and lunchrooms, and preventative maintenance for such facilities. In addition, selected TASA employees embark on monthly gastronomical routes across the different parts of Mexico with the aim of adding new flavors to the menu, allowing the company to bring to life the rich culinary roots of the country.
Broadening the company’s customer base will be difficult, however, due to ever-increasing competition. Oliver explains: “There has been a recent boom in the development of gastronomic schools, and the chef profession has probably had one of the biggest growth spurts in history. Every year thousands of new chefs and food administrators graduate, and with each one we have a new competitor.” To fend off the competition, TASA’s bet on the future remains on its continuing ability to innovate and lower costs for its clients.