Bolner’s Fiesta Spices is trying to balance culinary ventures with the proven formulas that have sustained it for almost six decades, says Michael Bolner ’73, vice president of sales and marketing.
The family-run business that started in 1955 in San Antonio focuses on a specific flavor profile — a targeted range of tastes. Fiesta’s products encompass authentic Mexican, Cajun and barbecue. “In general, you don’t want to taste the spice, you just want to enhance the product,” Bolner explained to a group of Business Honors students.
Bolner, one of seven children, works day-to-day with two brothers and their 85-year-old father. The next generation is also emerging, with two mechanical engineers keeping the equipment operating and a daughter managing the retail sales in Houston. Each weekday, all the family members who are available eat a working lunch together.
Until 1980, the company’s cash flow was seasonal — catering to cool-weather dishes such as chili and tamales. “The first product was a menudo mix. Recognizing that convenience sells, Fiesta’s first blend formulation back in 1955 was decided on by four employees making their own versions of menudo and the group picked the one that tasted the best.” The company added barbecue seasonings, spices for wild game and an array of rubs. Now, tailgating is a top trend through the fall, followed by rodeos — with their cook-offs — in late winter. “We don’t add products or packaging just for fun,” he says. “If I don’t see a clear path to money, I don’t do it.”
Bolner said his challenges include keeping the prices low, keeping the labor force staffed and bidding against other companies for a finite amount of commodities. “We are at the mercy of agriculture, the weather, hurricanes and civil unrest,” he said. “All we can do is plan ahead and keep our lines of communication open with our suppliers. There are only so many places that grow particular spices.”
Matthew Korioth ’17, a Business Honors major, said the most important thing he learned from Bolner was how items are chosen for the shelves of the stores. “As the typical consumer, the most important thing to me was always what was on the shelf at Walmart.Â Never did I think about the story behind the product, the buying of commodities for the production of the product, shipping the product to the store, or the marketing of the product in the store.Â Through this interaction, I was able to see the inner workings of a successful business and how much time and effort really goes into selling a product.Â This experience was extremely interesting and enlightening.”
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Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,000 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.