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Hormel to Launch El Torito Product Line in Groceries


Salsas, salad dressings, enchilada sauces and seasonings bearing the El Torito restaurant name make their debuts this week in Ralphs supermarkets and will be shipped to other major chains in Southern California within a month.

The Irvine-based restaurant chain said Monday it has signed an agreement with Hormel Foods Corp. to produce, distribute and market 18 El Torito products. If they sell well, the line could be expanded and distributed outside the region, the companies said.

El Torito joins a growing number of Southern California-based restaurant chains that have begun selling products in groceries. They include Marie Callender, Wolfgang Puck, Claim Jumper and Taco Bell.

"Restaurant branding has been more successful in Southern California than in any other place," said Jeffrey A. Grev, group product manager of Minnesota-based Hormel.

Industry experts expect the grocery line to do fairly well since El Torito is teaming with the experienced Hormel, which has managed to obtain shelf space in all major supermarket chains in Southern California and is spending approximately $4 million on the launch.

Hormel already distributes products from Chi-Chi's restaurants, a sister company of El Torito that is popular in the Midwest.

"Shelf space is the key to the battle," said Randall Hiatt, president of Fessel International, an Irvine consulting firm. "If you have someone who knows supermarkets, it's a much easier game than if you are a restaurant guy. Also, El Torito still has a very strong name in Southern California Mexican food."

Ronald Paul, president of Technomics, a Chicago-based food industry consulting firm, said restaurant chains carry instant recognition that can sway shoppers who are facing an array of choices on the shelves.

"Restaurant brands have been doing reasonably well because they break through the clutter," Paul said.

El Torito is being paid an undisclosed licensing fee by Hormel for the use of the restaurant's name.

The chain's executive chef participated in the final approval of the grocery products, such as cilantro pepita Caesar salad dressing and a sweet corn-cake mix.

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