by John McCurry / contributing writer
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the Hispanic population of Texas to be about 40 percent and growing. That makes for a highly competitive market for the grocery chains across the state focusing on this key demographic. El Rancho Supermercado, founded in 1988, is among those.
The rise of the Hispanic market in Texas led Albertsons to make an investment in El Rancho in 2017. The amount was not disclosed and El Rancho, based in Garland, Texas, continues to operate as an independent company.
El Rancho has grown from 16 stores to 25 since Albertsons’ investment. At the time of the transaction, El Rancho President Salah Nafal said it would allow the company to expand into new markets throughout Texas.
The growth around Houston has been especially rapid. El Rancho opened its first store in the city in June 2018. That was followed by a second store opening four months later at the site of a former Randall’s supermarket. The chain now has seven in the area.
It has 17 stores in the Dallas area, five of which have opened in the past two years. El Rancho also has one store in Odessa. Stores range in size from 20,000 to 60,000 square feet. The chain operates two distribution centers, one in Dallas and the other in Fort Worth.
El Rancho carries products aimed at making its customers “feel close to their roots.” This includes brands from Mexico and Central America that are considered iconic, such as Bimbo, Jarritos, Herdez, Mama Lycha, Goya, Lala, Mazola and La Costena.
“El Rancho Supermercado aims to inspire passion by providing that ‘at home’ atmosphere every time a customer or an employee enters our stores,” said Veronica Lievana, marketing director. “Our goal is to keep Hispanic family traditions alive each time our customers visit our stores.”
The ability to find familiar brands from their home countries is one of the most important draws for customers at El Rancho, according to Lievana. She said they are attracted by the possibility of maintaining family traditions.
El Rancho regularly surveys its customers to monitor preferences. It’s part of El Rancho’s effort to building a strong, ongoing relationship with its customers based on its “Rancho for Life” motto.
“We have a strong relation with our loyal customers,” Lievana said. “We receive daily feedback through different contact points such as Facebook, e-mail, stores, etc.”
El Rancho’s stores feature colorful sections that include panaderias (bakeries), cocinas (a prepared food area that offers authentic Mexican and Latin cuisines) and cremarias (a diverse dairy section that also includes products such as turkey, ham and pork chorizo). They also have a fresh seafood section.
Perhaps the most popular section in El Rancho’s stores is the tortilleria, where warm, fresh tortillas are prepared from scratch daily.
“Our tortillas are prepared with the finest quality ingredients,” Lievana said. “Our corn tortillas are made using the Nixtamal (a process where the corn is soaked and cooked in limewater) method, meaning we do all the hard work for you, so you can enjoy our warm tortillas without any hassle. We offer multiple selections of corn and flour tortillas to meet all our customers’ needs. Tortillas are a basic staple in the Hispanic diet, therefore it’s a must for every customer.”
The company’s rapid clip of opening stores will slow this year due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with just one store set to open in Pasadena, Texas.
But it likely will be a temporary pause. Lievana said over the next few years, expansion will resume with El Rancho moving into other states.
El Rancho is active in the communities it serves, making donations to food banks and other charities. During the pandemic, the chain has donated face shields and masks to hospitals and other organizations.
In non-pandemic times, El Rancho also holds community events, bringing together customers, clients and employees. These often include mariachi band performances and other entertainment.
To read more about Albertsons investment in El Rancho, click here.