Martinborough’s Cartel takes over
In a converted garage on the edge of town, a group of foodies are rolling out the taste of Monterrey in Martinborough.
The Cartel Food Company is carving a rapidly growing niche as New Zealand’s preeminent frozen burrito makers.
From scratch, they’re now supplying 120 supermarkets around the country, from Invercargill to Kerikeri.
They’ve recently moved into a bigger site, employed three staff, and are expanding beyond the confines of the supermarket frozen food section.
It’s a rapid expansion, given owners Melissa and Jason Philips began the business from scratch in 2015. They sold their Wellington home and moved to Martinborough, setting up shop in the kitchen of a local cafe.
‘‘We started by rolling 200 burritos a week,’’ Jason Philips said. ‘‘That was three years ago, and back then it took a whole day and four nights. Now we’re doing 2500 a week, and our goal is to do between 5-10,000 a week by the end of the year.’’
The duo’s love of burritos came from Jason’s childhood in Southern California, where burritos are ubiquitous.
‘‘We wanted to do our own thing, and we saw the Mexican category growing on shelves here,’’ Philips said.
‘‘We spotted there was nothing in the chilled and frozen section.
‘‘We initially thought about a burrito kit, but then we had an epiphany ... in Southern California, frozen burritos are the equivalent of microwave pies. We’re foodies, so we thought ‘let’s make a frozen burrito, but not a crap one.’’’
The burritos were quickly picked up by local distributors before spreading region, then nation, wide.
They’ve begun expanding beyond the frozen aisle of supermarkets, and are now selling to several ski fields - Coronet Peak, the Remarkables and Mount Hutt - in the South Island.
For all the growth, the burritos are still made by hand. In the company’s cosy food prep room, the employees portion the ingredients and roll the burritos themselves.
‘‘Portioning is the most difficult thing to do,’’ Jason Philips said.
‘‘The biggest burrito manufacturer in the US makes around 20,000 a day, but they still hand roll them at the end. We want to get something as close to homemade as possible.’’
Cartel Food Company owners Melissa and Jason Philips