Weslaco Company Reaches Global Market

Published by: Valley Business Report, Ricardo D. Cavazos
Date: October 2022
Link: https://valleybusinessreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/VBR-OCT-22_WEB_FINAL_2.pdf

Headline: Weslaco Company Reaches Global Market

A tour of the Clever Foods & Supplements operating facility shows shiny white floors and gleaming silver equipment that’s intertwined and can churn out over 30 million vitamin gummies a month.  The Clever facility is a new addition to the Mid Valley Industrial Park in  Weslaco. Three executives with deep experience in manufacturing and sales are its owners and operators. They see the Mid-Valley city  as an ideal location to make and ship out thousands of gummy-filled jars and packages every month. Clever’s clients are some of the biggest vitamin and supplement companies in the United States and Mexico. The launch of Clever in Weslaco early this year reflects how cities work with manufacturers and other companies in their startup operations. The Weslaco Economic Development Corporation typically offers up to 10 percent of a company’s capital investment as an incentive to select the city for their expansion plans. The EDC also offers an additional incentive of up to $1,500 per job as long as the company pays above $12 an hour.

Right People  

The results of such a collaboration are apparent in the Clever operations at Weslaco’s industrial park. The company is already employing 30 full time employees at its 26,000-square-foot facility. It has plans to add a second manufacturing line in the next few years. At the same time, plans are to bulk up its workforce to over 50 employees. Clever is tapping into a roughly $6-billion gummy vitamins global market. Looking ahead, there is an expectation for the market to exceed $9 billion by 2026.  Weslaco is where they’ve set up to establish
their presence in this sprawling marketplace. “We appreciate the city’s support,” said Ricardo Villarreal, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Clever Foods. “This is a community with a good working culture. It’s close to the border and it’s not in a saturated area. We’re in a sector that’s innovative and is growing.”

Right Products

One of Clever’s specialties is manufacturing apple cider vinegar, or ACV, gummies.  These types of gummies have rapidly gained shelf space and public prominence in recent years. Celebrities like Jennifer Lopez endorse ACV gummies in trying to make the nutritious but bitter-tasting supplement more palatable to consumers. Gummies are often the form many choose to consume ACV.

Right Equipment

There’s a multistep process Clever uses to make the gummies through a highly automated and computerized system. The equipment at the Weslaco facility is from Europe. The process involves starting with raw materials like colors, flavors, vinegar and corn syrup. They then transform them into a jelly-like substance. Clients request ingredient formulas and Clever mixes them to exact specifications. High heating temperatures turn the jelly substances hot and liquidity. The jellies are then poured into molds and trays of tiny suction cups. Once poured, they dry in large freezing equipment as the process continues. The colder temperatures allow the gummies to solidify into
their shapes. On the day of the tour in Weslaco, observers saw thousands of dome-shaped, cherry red apple cider vinegar gummies going into huge containers for eventual packaging and delivery. “It’s state of the art equipment,” Villarreal said. “We have the right equipment, the right people, and the right tools to operate successfully in the healthy food and snack industry.” 

Meeting The Grade

Villarreal was educated at Tecnologico de Monterrey, with undergraduate and master’s degrees. He then attended Harvard Business School, earning an executive MBA.  Before helping to found and lead Clever, Villarreal had extensive experience in management  0perations of companies specializing in home improvements and supply fixtures. His co-owners and fellow executives of Clever are Fernando Zepeda and Sergio Zepeda. They run an efficient and tech-savvy lean operation that focuses on safety, quality and developing their employees. The Weslaco plant has been visited multiple times by quality audit teams of large vitamin and supplement companies that sell their products to large retailers like Wal-Mart and Target. The ACV gummies at these stores may be from Weslaco, although nondisclosure agreements do not allow Clever management to publicly confirm who their clients are.  “We manufacture for other brands,” Villarreal said. “We can provide multiple formulations that include probiotics, minerals and electrolytes. The supplements market is growing tremendously. Within that market, gummies are the fastest growing product because they appeal to people across all age groups.”

Looking Ahead

 Clever hopes to someday produce and sell their own brands. Tour participants were given some ACV gummies manufactured at Clever
with the company’s label on them. It could be a hint of things to come. For now, the focus for Villarreal and his co-owners are adding
manufacturing lines and equipment while growing their presence in a fast-growing global market.