“You’re looking at the son of the man who created nachos,” Tony Liberto ’86 said in a recent lecture to Mays Business School students.
The president of the San Antonio-based company Ricos Products comes from a long line of entrepreneurial spirits. Liberto’s great-grandfather migrated from Sicily in 1890 as a 14-year-old boy, and quickly got the idea to roast peanuts in a coffee bean roaster. He began selling roasted peanuts, as well as other concession products, at circuses.
Rico Products President Tony Liberto ’86 advised students to find a balance between textbook knowledge and pure experience, and emphasized the importance of honesty and integrity in the workplace. (view more photos)
Eventually, the company was passed down to Liberto’s grandfather, then his father, who took over the business in the 1960s. Liberto jokes that his father “could sell ice to Eskimos,” describing him as a natural salesman. In 1976, Liberto’s father came up with the idea of concession-style nachos, and the company began selling the snack to baseball fans at Arlington Stadium.
Liberto says the company took off from there. Within a few years, 70 percent of movie theaters sold Ricos nachos at their concession stands. International movie theaters began carrying the product shortly after.
Liberto credits the jalapeno pepper for nachos’ booming success. “Popcorn and hotdog sales increased when nachos were added to the concession menu,” Liberto says, explaining that people bought other concession foods because they wanted to calm the jalapeno spice in their mouths.
Over time, companies such as Sam’s Clubs, H-E-B, Walmart and Kroger began approaching Ricos Products asking to carry their products. Nachos’ appearance in grocery stores propelled the company to further success, but also opened the door for competitors to begin making similar products. Liberto describes reacting to these competitors as one of the more difficult problems the company faces.
Liberto says his time at Texas A&M was critical to understanding how to run the family company. He advised students to find a balance between textbook knowledge and pure experience, and emphasized the importance of carrying on the honesty and integrity students learn at Texas A&M into the workplace.
The success of Ricos Products indicates the Liberto family’s dedication to maintaining a good product, good people and good tradition. Referring to his niece, who is now working for the company, Liberto says he’s “proud to say Ricos is now a fifth-generation company.”