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[caption id="attachment_43906" align="alignright" width="235" caption="Sam Tamayo"][/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- Culminating a several-year family business succession plan, Sam Tamayo will take over as chief executive officer of La Tortilla Factory in January, the company announced today.

Effective Jan. 28, Mr. Tamayo, 36, will replace Stan Mead, 59, who has been chief executive since 2008 and will be retiring from the 34-year-old company. Owners Carlos Tamayo, chairman, president and Sam Tamayo's father, and his brother Willie Tamayo, executive vice president, will continue in those roles, as will Jonna Greene, vice president of operations.

Carlos Tamayo said the planning will lead to an "orderly transition" next year to the third generation of family operation of La Tortilla Factory (www.latortillafactory.com).

"My brother Willie and I are very pleased that our board has successfully executed on our family business succession plan that has been under way for nearly five years," he said. "Stan Mead's commitment to developing Sam's skill sets and talents has been instrumental in preparing him to take on the role of CEO."

[caption id="attachment_43916" align="alignright" width="135" caption="Stan Mead"][/caption]

Sam Tamayo has been rising through the ranks of the company in roles such as chief operating officer and most recently as vice president of business development, in which he went on sales calls and was involved in research on new products. He has been reporting to Mr. Mead since 1997, when Mr. Mead joined the company as interim chief financial officer, moving to full time in 2003.

That's when Carlos and Willie Tamayo started a push to expand distribution to major grocery chains nationwide. The effort picked up momentum with the relocation to a larger production facility near Charles M. Schulz--Sonoma County Airport in 2005.

The brothers' parents -- Jose and Mary Tamayo -- started La Tortilla Factory in 1977. In the past three years, staff in Santa Rosa has grown to nearly 300 from 175 and annual sales doubled to more than $50 million.

"We'll continue to build off what started with our national reputation and national retail partners," Sam Tamayo said. "We have a sustainable growth plan."

That growth has come during a severe economic recession. While the $1.3 billion annual market for tortillas in the U.S. has had no or negative growth, the category for premium tortillas and wraps -- less than 20 percent of the market -- has been expanding in the past two years, Mr. Mead said. National grocery chains are looking to more premium tortillas and wraps to reach health-conscious consumers looking for an alternative to white or other breads.

"Consumers buying traditional wraps and tortillas are still there, but more are looking for gourmet or artisan products for home consumption," he said.

So the La Tortilla Factory's eponymous, Smart & Delicious and Sonoma brands offering options such as whole grains, high fiber, low carbohydrates, fat, sodium or calories, absence of gluten, extra virgin olive oil and organic ingredients.

But the company faces competition from Gruma Corp., which makes the Mission and Guerrero brands and dominates about half the tortilla market, according to Mr. Mead.

One edge the company has in marketing nationwide is being based in wine country, the lifestyle of which is being emulated from coast to coast, according to Sam Tamayo.

"We're very proud of being from Sonoma County and there's not an opportunity where we don't promote it," he said.

The company plans to focus marketing on offering more upscale and gourmet recipes that work with the lines of tortillas and wraps, he added. Also, there's going to be a focus on fusion cuisine, innovators of which are using wraps with Italian, Greek and Korean foods.

With significant value in the marketplace from the company's employment and community commitment to Sonoma County for three decades, La Tortilla Factory has no concrete plans to add production or distribution facilities outside the area or state, according to Sam Tamayo. However, as sales grow and the existing production facility reaches capacity, the company will look at ways to best serve buyers and continue to grow market share.