The Renfro Tradition
Turning a passion for family recipes into a thriving family business.
In 1940, with the Depression still a vivid memory, George Renfro took a big risk for a man with a family. He quit his job selling restaurant supplies and condiments. And with little more than sheer determination and the support of his family, George and his wife, Arthurine, co-founded George Renfro Food Company in the garage of their north Fort Worth home. In their new venture, they distributed packaged spices and pepper sauces throughout Fort Worth and the surrounding areas.
With hard work, George Renfro Food Company grew steadily. By 1948, the Renfros expanded the company's product line, buying a local syrup manufacturer. Through the tireless efforts of George, his family and a small sales staff that literally sold goods from the back of a truck, the company's Dixieland Syrups soon had wide distribution throughout Texas grocery stores. Virtually every Dallas-Fort Worth restaurant purchased the syrup from George Renfro Food Company, approximately 85% of the restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
Only four short years after adding syrup to its manufacturing line, George was again looking for his next quality product. This time George and Arthurine acquired the formulas of Gold Star Foods. They reworked the ingredients, making them taste more like family recipes. Before long, George Renfro Food Company had entered the jelly, preserve, vinegar and chow chow business as well.
At the time, few Southerners could imagine eating beans or peas without homemade chow chow, especially during the cold winter months. Realizing they had one of the few commercially made, yet homemade-tasting chow chows available, the Renfros capitalized on public demand and created the popular Dixieland Chow Chow.
Response to the blend of cabbage, bell peppers, sugar, spices and vinegar was so tremendous that, by 1960, George Renfro Food Company had become a one-product business focusing exclusively on Dixieland Chow Chow.
By 1963, company sales had more than quadrupled. The Renfros now distributed their chow chow to nearly every grocery store in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and northern Louisiana. As great as everything seemed, George knew there were a few problems. During the warm summer months, grocery store sales traditionally slumped. Consequently, the company created the Mrs. Renfro's label and began selling the chow chow directly to fruit and vegetable stands. The Dixieland label was exclusively reserved for grocery stores.
With this new direction, sales began to take off. Soon fruit and vegetable stands throughout Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee were carrying the increasingly popular Mrs. Renfro's products, which by the mid-'60s included Corn Relish and Tomato Relish. There was still, however, a lack of chow chow popularity among younger consumers. For George, the time had come again to look for yet another expansion opportunity.
In 1972, shortly after incorporating under its current name, Renfro Foods, Inc., the family purchased the recipes of Olé Foods, a Mexican-style hot sauce maker. The Renfros anticipated that customers' tastes were changing, and they quickly made plans to ride the wave of interest in Mexican foods. Reworking the basic taco sauce ingredients of Olé Foods, the Renfros created a richer and tastier salsa recipe. Mrs. Renfro's salsas gained popularity fast, earning a reputation for quality flavor at a reasonable price. This quick surge in demand lead to a major facilities expansion that more than doubled the company's production operations.
With George's death in 1975, Arthurine and the children, Bill and Jack, were left to lead the company into its greatest growth period yet. The country's love of hot and spicy foods was escalating, and with this, so was the rise in demand for Mrs. Renfro's products. The product line soon expanded from the original hot or mild sauces to a variety of picantes and medium-style sauces.
Demand for Mrs. Renfro's Mexican-style products and its old-time favorites continued to soar in the decades ahead. In 1988, to manage the brand's growing popularity, Renfro Foods again doubled its facilities and production capacity. Then, in 1995, after determining that consumers' tastes were becoming more sophisticated and somewhat adventurous, the company introduced two gourmet salsas - Black Bean and Habanero.
Mrs. Renfro's gourmet product line became a favorite for salsa lovers and connoisseurs. Forced to keep up with increased demand, Renfro Foods expanded its manufacturing plant again in 1997, also adding Peach, Chipotle Corn and Roasted salsas to its list of intriguing salsa palates. In 2000, Mrs. Renfro's products got a fresh, new contemporary look with a label and jar re-design to strengthen shelf presence. The following year, Renfro Foods introduced its 25th product - Garlic Salsa - and began labeling in French and Spanish to increase its global presence with product distribution in new international markets. Raspberry Chipotle Salsa was introduced in 2003.
In 2005, the company built a new 12,000 square foot warehouse to accommodate continued growth. That was coupled with the installation of new computerized accounting and shop floor control software that gave them more detailed financial and quality assurance information. In 2006, the latest Mrs. Renfro's product was unveiled - Mango Habanero Salsa.
As a community minded company, in 2007, Renfro Foods launched its Pink Lid Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign. Six of its top-selling salsas - Mango Habanero, Green, Black Bean, Raspberry Chipotle, Habanero, and Peach - were all re-fitted with pink lids and new labels. A portion of the sales were given to organizations and institutions involved in cancer research. To date, the company has donated more than $100,000 to cancer research.
In 2009, the company added three new salsas to its salsa line - Pomegranate, Tequila and Pineapple, the latter which became a 2010 Scovie Award First Place winner for fruit salsa in the processed salsa category.
In 2010, Renfro Foods added its hottest salsa to date - Ghost Pepper (made with the world's hottest chile pepper, Bhut Jolokia), which also became a 2011 Scovie Award winner. It also became the fast-selling new product in the company's history. And in 2010, Mrs. Renfro's Habanero Salsa was named among "125 Best Packaged Foods for Women" by Women's Health magazine.
In the ensuing years, the company continued to receive numerous business and product awards and expanded its international distribution.
It was named Small Business of the Year (11-50 employee category) by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce (2011), a Blue Ribbon Award Winner and Finalist for the Small Business of the Year Award by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2012), and was named a Regional Finalist for the U.S. Chamber Small Business of the Year Award (2014). It also received the Texas Treasure Business Award (2014).
On the product front, Mrs. Renfro's Pineapple Salsa was named a Best Savory Snack inFitness Magazine's 5th Annual Healthy Foods Awards (2011) and Mrs. Renfro's Ghost Pepper was chosen as a Top Pick by "Good Morning America" Food Editor Sara Moulton in a preview segment of the 2011 Summer Fancy Food Show. In 2014, Mrs. Renfro's Pineapple and Ghost Pepper salsas were named two of the top 13 salsas in the June issue of Woman's Day.
Renfro Foods launched its 31st product in 2012 - Sweet & Hot Sliced Jalapeno Peppers - making its debut at the Winter Fancy Food Show. The company also began product distribution in Spain, followed by a "test" order to China (2013) and distribution to Australia (2014).
Always looking to improve and expand categories, Renfro Foods debuted an improved Nacho Cheese Sauce at the 2013 Winter Fancy Food Show and introduced two new flavors to the category - Chipotle Nacho Cheese and Ghost Pepper Nacho Cheese -- reflecting the high heat factor that continues in the marketplace. In 2015 it did the same with its BBQ Sauce -- debuting two new flavors - Chipotle BBQ Sauce and Ghost Pepper BBQ sauce, and removing gluten and high-fructose corn syrup. And in 2016, Renfro's introduced a seasonal flavor with Pumpkin Salsa.
Today, George and Arthurine's family - sons Jack and Bill, who now consult, and grandchildren Doug, Becky and James, who continue to run the company, have grown the Mrs. Renfro's brand to include more than 30 salsas, peppers, relishes, and sauces, which are available in all 50 states, as well as in Canada, the Caribbean, England, Scotland, Germany, Spain, and Australia.