Salsa business expands with help from New Mexico MEP

Rachel Schneider had limited experience in the food industry when her father purchased Ol’ Gringo Chile Company from its original owners in 2014 and began training her to take over the 22-year-old Las Cruces salsa and jarring business. Within 6 months, her father had died of cancer.

“Dad had the vision, but he was gone almost immediately after I took over,” Schneider said.

Phil Schneider’s dream was to jar the salsas he served at Andele Restaurant in Mesilla, which he opened with his daughter Andrea in 1996. When Ol’ Gringo Chile Company was offered for sale, Phil saw an opportunity to bring daughter Rachel into the family business.

“The first improvement (we) made after purchasing the company was to move from a 2,000-square-foot building that was largely falling apart to a new, 5,000-square-foot building in 2016,” Rachel Schneider said. “Within three years of that move, we expanded our space to 10,000 square feet.”

Ol’ Gringo improved its equipment and business practices to meet increasing demand, including working with restaurants and other customers to make products under those clients’ labels. But the pace of production was taking a toll on workers who prepared everything by hand.

Schneider’s contacts at the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance in 2020 suggested she contact New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership (New Mexico MEP) for help becoming more efficient and profitable without sacrificing quality or losing staff. New Mexico MEP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping small manufacturing businesses navigate such changes.

“The hope was that MEP could guide us through the process of adding automation to our all-manual production process,” she said. “But we are a high-mix operation; we make a lot of different products. Automation is simple if you’re making one product — and lots of it.”

New Mexico MEP innovation director Jeff Abrams conducted onsite time studies to measure average intervals for tasks involved in each phase of daily production, including cooking, filling and capping jars, labeling, packaging, and shipping. Abrams’ goal was to determine how much more Ol’ Gringo could produce using existing equipment and which processes would benefit from more sophisticated automation and lean-manufacturing practices that reduce worker stress.

He suggested changes to the plant’s layout, such as centralizing the power source for each machine. The layout also laid the groundwork for incorporating new machinery when the company was ready to invest in technology solutions.

In late 2021, that moment arrived. Abrams worked with Schneider to find the right equipment, evaluate vendor quotes, and negotiate an affordable price. He also helped her acquire an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in early 2023 to simplify time-consuming aspects of food production, such as tracing and documenting the source and path of each ingredient in the supply chain.

“The bigger we get, it’s harder to keep track of all those things,” Schneider said. “By streamlining information, more time and energy can be directed to business development.”

Rachel’s brother Kurt joined the company in 2022 after a long career in auto manufacturing and defense contracting to oversee the transition from manual to automated inventory tracking.

Schneider can’t provide specific data about how much time and money the company is saving and how much more it’s able to produce until these systems are fully implemented. But she expects to reduce filling time by 25 percent, double production capacity, and increase her workforce by 25 percent. “While this can’t be quantified, we also expect that automated processes will reduce the ergonomic burden of a manual production process.”

Schneider lauded Abrams’ patience with her systematic and methodical approach to growth.

“Jeff Abrams is an incredible resource,” she said. “Because there was no turnkey solution for our niche operation, Jeff collaborated with our team to identify custom solutions.  His manufacturing background and work with similar-sized companies in the same industry as ours gives him unique insight that he shared with us.”

Learn more about Ol’ Gringo Chile Company products.