First, they came for Juanita's.
Texan snack-food megacorporation Frito-Lay looks to be fighting a proxy war against Oregon's own homegrown, family-run Juanita's tortilla chips, unofficial tortilla chip of the Willamette Week offices.
Perhaps you have noticed the La Cocina De Josefina Mexican Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips, front and center in some of the most valuable real estate at your local grocery store? The bags show a woman lovingly smashing corn flat with a roller, presumably somewhere in Vancouver.
"Made right here in the Pacific Northwest," says the promotional copy, "we care greatly about the product we create for you, and make sure to only use quality ingredients." The label also says, more than a little creepily, that the chips were made out of "corn, oil, salt... and love" by a company called Cocina Autentica.
But while the chips are indeed made in the Northwest, they're manufactured at the Vancouver Frito-Lay plant at 4808 NW Fruit Valley Rd., the Columbian first reported, and Frito-Lay is listed nowhere on the packaging because, in the words of a spokesperson, "this is a specialty brand in the Northwest. We wanted it to have that local feel." Some stores display the chips with "Made in Vancouver" signs.
Juanita's president Luis Dominguez says his company is well aware of the knock-off chip brand.
"Word on the street is they’re coming after Juanita's," Dominguez tells Willamette Week, adding that it's part of a national strategy by Frito-Lay to target popular local brands.
"At nationwide industry meetings, they said they'll go after regional companies that are strong in their area," he says. "Go after regional companies in the Midwest, California, and compete that way."
Dominguez also thinks the packaging is suspiciously reminiscent of his own. "They copied the label," he says. "Our customers are very smart. You think they’re gonna fool them? Yeah. The first time."
Nonetheless, Dominguez says he's not going to change what his company is doing. "But they scare me a little bit, don’t get me wrong," he says. "They’re on top of the world, the rest of us are way down below."
But Frito-Lay probably doesn't know about Juanita's secret weapon, the almighty Chilipeño, greatest grocery store chip ever invented by man, brought out only in times of greatest need.
We called Frito-Lay's Cocina de Josefina customer line to warn them their struggles were futile. But they answered in Spanish.