PepsiCo Puerto Rico exploring exporting locally-made products to So. Florida market
PepsiCo, which has been manufacturing popular snacks — Doritos, Tostitos and Cheetos — out of its Barceloneta plant since 1982, is evaluating expanding its reach into South Florida, by exporting its “Mofongo Mix” product line into a market with a solid Puerto Rican presence.
In an interview with this media outlet, company General Manager Alejandro Mejía said PepsiCo’s local operation — which employs a combined 470 people in manufacturing, distribution and sales — has an R&D division that follows its parent company’s global standards but has the leeway to develop local flavors to appeal to boricua consumers.
Out of that R&D came PepsiCo’s “Mofongo Mix,” a snack bag that mixes fried yucca and plantain chips, and pork rinds — ingredients that make up Puerto Rico’s signature “mofongo” dish.
“We’re evaluating the South Florida market, to confirm if we can export products that are part of the Puerto Rican heritage for boricuas living there,” he said. “We’ve done our part by sending samples to our leadership there, and we’re ready to export. If they tell me to do it tomorrow, I’ll do it tomorrow.”
Initially, the likely pilot market would be the Orlando area, which has the highest density of Puerto Rican residents in the state. If the product is well-accepted, then an expansion further south down to Miami could be a potential next step in the plan, he said.
In Puerto Rico, PepsiCo produces between 5,000 and 5,500 tons of Doritos, Tostitos and Cheetos a year, which represents about 71 million units, or bags, said Mejía, who has been with PepsiCo for 16 years, first in his native Venezuela and then overseeing the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands market since 2016.
Since his arrival, PepsiCo has invested some $6 million in upgrades across-the-board, including upgrades to the manufacturing plant that has three production lines and produces 80 different SKUs, or items for sale, in a variety of sizes and formats.
Those investments also respond to PepsiCo’s local expansion plans, which two years ago included the start of exports to Panama and other Caribbean islands, he said. Now, the company has its eyes set on the Dominican Republic, with a population of 11 million.
“Puerto Rico is very relevant in the Caribbean region but expanding into the Dominican Republic would undoubtedly leverage the [Barceloneta] plant and help sell much more abroad,” he added.
Meanwhile, another growth opportunity has emerged in Puerto Rico recently, as consumers have shifted their attention to healthy food options. In response to that, PepsiCo has been expanding its “better for you” line of products, Mejía said.
“There’s a portfolio that has been growing significantly in recent years that we call ‘better for you,’ which responds to the needs of the Puerto Rico market, where consumers are adults averaging 43 years of age who are looking for much healthier products,” he said, of the line that includes organic versions of the company’s popular Doritos and Tostitos, and newer additions such as Stacy’s pita chips, Sun Chips and Smartfood popcorn, among others.
Those products are brought in from the U.S. and are part of a “niche” that while in demand, does not generate a high enough volume to merit adding another production line in Barceloneta, he said.
“Our mission for 2021 is to continue expanding that demand for differentiated products and continue expanding our portfolio, while remaining competitive,” Mejía said.