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Foodies chase burrito dream

By Chelsea Boyle

[email protected]

For a young Wellingtonian couple, Martinborough proved to be the perfect place to launch their business.

With two young children in tow, they left the windy capital as a pragmatic business decision to cut down on overhead costs and channel their resources into their new business – Cartel Food Co.

It was a leap of faith for Melissa and Jason Philips.

“We have always been food people and love eating,” Mrs Philips said.

“We love sharing food with people.”

Prior to the move, they had initially hoped to make a fresh food product.

But one comment proved to be a game-changer for the foodies who hoped to gain a national following.

“I spoke to a manufacturer who said the frozen category was stagnant and lacking in innovation,” Mr Philips said.

For Mr Philips, who had experience with sales and distribution in supermarkets, it seemed like an opportunity going begging.

From that point onwards the pair set out to make the perfect frozen burrito.

The clear advantage of delivering a frozen product was that it would “do away with issues of shelf life and spoilage” that had been a challenge in the fresh food market.

Mrs Philips kept an eye on what was happening in the supermarket aisles, and knew their product had to be a part of the trend that had seen the rise in popularity of gourmet foods.

“The explosion of gourmet food had hit every aisle in the supermarket,” she said.

The pair were always chasing a big business.

“We are a deliberate business not an accidental business,” Mr Philips said.

They set about to make something, he said.

Growing up in Southern California frozen burritos had been a go-to staple for Mr Philips and his friends, and he was hoping to inspire the same enthusiasm for the product in New Zealand.

He wanted the product reaching customers to taste as “homemade as we can get it”.

The pair hand-rolled the first 12,000 burritos and started selling frozen burritos at Pain & Kershaw in Martinborough, Moore Wilson in Wellington, and Nosh and Farrow Fresh in Auckland.

As their enterprise grew they decided to contract out the manufacturing so they could keep up with demand.

They targeted supermarkets, knocking on every door until they had cracked the North Island Food Stuffs network.

“Getting into the distribution centres was a major win for us,” Mrs Philips added.

It enabled smaller outlets to stock the product without having to purchase large amounts.

The couple have now sold about 80,000 frozen burritos, just under two years since they started.

“What used to be a good week is a good day,” Mrs Philips said.

It was a little bit down to being in the right place at the right time, Mr Philips added.

“There is an appetite for Mexican food in the market.”

So much so that the pair have four new products in the pipeline.

They will be adding two new burrito flavours to the line-up by the end of the year, one of which will be another vegetarian option.

They will also be adding two new products to the brand, and while they are not burritos, details of the new products are still under wraps.


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