For Doug Renfro, president of Renfro Foods, RD provides the spice in his professional life.
Few companies are able to achieve success through the preeminence of a single product. Even in the case of a company like Coca-Cola, whose namesake beverage literally provides shorthand for a world of “cokes”, the range of products and onslaught of the new seems endless. No company embodies this necessity with greater zest and grace than Renfro’s Foods. For decades, the iconic Fort Worth company has stood as both traditionalist and tastemaker in an ever-varied marketplace.
Whether it’s cheese sauce, relish, or the famous salsas, shoppers know quality when they see the friendly face of the Mrs. Renfro label. With new seasonal products continually on the horizon, one might wonder where the team at Mrs. Renfro’s gets all of its ideas. Much of the credit is owed to Doug Renfro, president of Renfro Foods and overseer of product development.
A family company in the truest sense, Renfro Foods now benefits from the leadership of its third generation. As a child, Doug worked every summer from the bottom-rung up, and has a knowledge of his business sorely lacking in many inheritor executives.
“I worked every summer since the 6th grade doing the nasty jobs,” says Doug. “When I was in college, I mixed the spices from 2 to 7pm, and also had the world’s most interesting Subaru.”
The Renfro heirs had to earn their places in the company, and Doug went into the corporate world after graduation.
“I worked for a giant company, and while it was great training, it sucked the soul out of me,” he says. “Research and Development at Renfro’s has been my baby for the past 25 years, and though it only takes up one percent of my time, it’s the fun part.”
The other 99 percent gets devoted to Doug’s duties as president. He rejoined the company in 1992, and currently oversees risk management, legal, human resources, and information systems. In addition to these duties, Doug helps his cousin, Becky, whom we profiled in a past issue, with sales, finance and accounting, pricing, marketing, public relations, international sales, and social media. As anyone can see, a full plate at Renfro’s Foods does not necessarily contain delectable goodies garnished with salsa, relish, barbecue and cheese sauce; it can also contain all the responsibilities of the ninth largest company of its kind.
As mentioned, new product development provides the spice in Doug’s professional life. Some of Mrs. Renfro’s more recent flavors, such as the Ghost Pepper Salsa and Mango Habanero Salsa, have been huge hits. The process that leads to the creation of these goods serves to illustrate the complexity of the business, as consumer tastes and competition must weigh against the bursts of creativity enjoyed by Doug and his team.
“We look around. I’m cursed to have to eat at the nicest restaurants, and I’m always reading magazines and visiting gourmet shops” says Doug. “I discovered an amazing mango halibut chutney in a restaurant, but we waited a full five years before we thought that the average consumer would go for our version. If you come out too early with something, the velocity can get you kicked out.”
Price point also provides an indispensable consideration. Mrs. Renfro’s prides itself on offering gourmet goods at an affordable price.
“We can’t get too fancy with our ingredients, so when I saw the ghost pepper at a chop-up bar, I knew the price point had to work first.”
For this component of the process, Doug relies on the expertise of the rest of his family and team. Tongue fatigue can set in after testing too many recipes, or ingredients may get sourced from too small of bottles. From start to finish, the creation of a new good resembles a Rubik’s cube, in which all colors must align before a successful launch to store shelves.
“The joy of RD is that we occasionally have a runaway hit,” says Doug. “The Ghost Pepper sales went from brand new to number three in just three years. It was so popular, that the ghost pepper iterations of our barbecue and cheese sauce helped those items as well.”
So what can Mrs. Renfro’s fans look forward to in the near future? Doug has one savory tidbit he can offer.
“We just finished our first-ever seasonal item, the pumpkin salsa,” says Doug. “It was very popular, and this concept of new seasonal items is very attractive to us. We’ll have a new one out in just a few weeks.”