MegaMex Foods, the joint venture Hormel Foods created with Herdez del Fuerte, the leading Mexican food producer, was founded with the philosophy that sharing food between cultures is a deeply meaningful way to enhance connection and understanding.
There’s even a word for this: gastrodiplomacy. When someone offers you an authentic meal from their culture, they’re not just feeding you — they’re also giving you a visceral insight into their traditions, their family and their upbringing. As we pass plates, we pass along stories and traditions, transforming the meal into a memory.
Food is important in every culture, of course, but sometimes it can be so critical to a civilization that it calls for special recognition and respect. In 2009, the same year Hormel Foods and Herdez Del Fuerte announced their 50:50 partnership in creating MegaMex Foods, UNESCO voted to recognize Mexican cuisine as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” A designation like this isn’t just about recipes; it speaks to food’s broader importance to Mexican culture.
The importance of Mexican cuisine to Central American culture can be seen in Diego Rivera’s murals and paintings, which often focus on farming, food preparation and market scenes. La Molendera (Woman Grinding Maize) of 1924 and La Tortillera (the Tortilla Maker) of 1926 capture a culture-wide reverence for the simple act of creating tortillas.
In his 1945 mural Tenochtitlán, Rivera captures a boisterous scene that speaks to the success of MegaMex Foods. It’s a market from the time of the Aztecs, but the dynamic bustle elicits the same sounds, sights and smells that can be found in Mexican marketplaces today. It is from this vibrant tradition that MegaMex Foods draws its inspiration.
MegaMex Foods is the modern-day embodiment of a food tradition that goes back at least 9,000 years, to the first domestication of maize crops by indigenous communities. Its current incarnation is the result of a 16th-century clash between Spanish conquistadors and the Aztec Empire. From farming traditions and cooking practices to pottery, art and folklore, this culinary tradition has become a cornerstone for cultural practices in Mexico today. MegaMex Foods was founded with the hope of sharing this deep culinary heritage with the rest of the world.
Born of Proud Parents
“After just a decade, we can now truly say that MegaMex is a leader in the Mexican food space,” says MegaMex Foods CEO Ryan Michaelis. “I believe our partnership between Hormel Foods and Herdez Del Fuerte is our single most important differentiator versus our competitors.”
What made this partnership so fruitful? Just over a decade old, MegaMex Foods is just a youngster compared to its two parent companies — Hormel Foods was founded in 1891, while Herdez del Fuerte, S.A. de C.V. can trace its history back to 1914 — but both began as small-town businesses deeply rooted in a sense of place.
The parent companies are here to provide resources and experience, but it has been exciting to see MegaMex develop its own personality and culture.Scott Aakre, Vice President of Consumer Insights and Corporate Innovation at Hormel
“Hormel and Herdez are similar because they both started as a family dream and grew from there,” says Hector Hernandez-Pons, chairman and CEO of Grupo Herdez. “I think that family passion and values are important for a growing business. It gets communicated to the executives and passed down to each new generation of leaders.”
The similarities go deeper. Long before they partnered to create MegaMex Foods, both parent companies were pioneers in introducing culturally meaningful foods to new populations. In the 20th century, Hormel Foods popularized pepperoni and other Italian cured meats among American eaters. In the decades following the Second World War, Grupo Herdez specialized in bringing popular American versions of products like marmalade, syrup, mustard and mayonnaise to Mexico. Taking a critical turn in the late 1960s, the company became known for producing sauces, chilis and other products with a distinctive Mexican taste. From there, they began exporting those foods to the United States, whose population was increasingly interested in foreign cuisines.
New Flavors & New Trends
As interest in Mexican food spread across the U.S., younger generations of consumers began seeking more authentic flavors, new products and novel recipes. When MegaMex Foods launched in 2009, Americans were already familiar with Tex-Mex cooking, and interested in discovering more traditional dishes from south of the border — waking up to that “intangible” cultural meaning of Mexican cuisine, and wanting more of it.
The power of MegaMex Foods was clear right away. Through brands such as Herdez, La Victoria, Don Miguel and Embasa, sales grew more than 150 percent in 2010 and 2011 alone. But MegaMex Foods, like Mexican cuisine as a whole, also gained momentum in the U.S. from a growing trend of individualism in American consumers’ food preferences.
“Consumers, particularly younger generations, love to customize and put their own spin on family meals,” says MegaMex Foods CEO Michaelis. “That is one of the beauties of Mexican food.” Taco nights, for instance, allow everyone around the table to eat together, yet with a dish easily customized to individual diets and tastes.
A Unique Culture
While built on the strengths of its parent companies, MegaMex Foods was designed to operate with its own unique identity. “MegaMex is an independent company that has its own reason for being,” says Scott Aakre, vice president of consumer insights and corporate innovation at Hormel Foods. “The parent companies are here to provide resources and experience, but it has been exciting to see MegaMex develop its own personality and culture.”
As an expression of that culture, MegaMex Foods celebrated its tenth anniversary a few years ago by rolling out a new purpose statement — “Reimagining Mexican Flavor” — and a new logo that depicts a chili, a tomato and an avocado surrounding a blossom that represents the bounty of new flavors to come.
“The traditional products we began with sold very well, but consumer interest kept evolving,” says Jorge Parilla, CFO of Grupo Kuo, one of Grupo Herdez’s parent companies. “So MegaMex had to create an innovation system with product and recipe testing every week.” That commitment to exploration and invention has already produced category-disrupter products such as Guacamole Salsa and Taqueria Street Sauces inspired by flavors found at taco trucks.
“What’s most exciting is that we’ve just begun to scratch the surface,” says Michaelis. Indeed, there are over half a dozen regional cuisines in Mexico that have yet to be sampled by most U.S. consumers. “We now have four thousand employees and a corporate culture that embraces flavor with a spirit of fun,” he explains. “It’s our vision to bring that to every table.”