Rick Bayless is cashing a big check from Big Food. The Chicago-based chef just sold Frontera Foods, his line of chips and salsas, to giant food conglomerate ConAgra. That means Bayless’s snack line is now under the same corporate umbrella as frozen Kid Cuisine meals, Chef Boyardee canned ravioli, and Slim Jims.
The Chicago Tribune reports Bayless is staying on with the company as an advisor, and that the acquisition will enable Frontera to expand its product line and ramp up production. (The “all-natural” line also includes seasoning blends, guacamole mix, and hot sauces.) The company has had problems keeping up with demand in recent months, experiencing “a major salsa shortage” last Cinco de Mayo. Does this mean we’ll see the chef’s face in grocery store advertisements or on television commercials?
It seems a little strange for Bayless, who operates a nonprofit that supports small, sustainable farms and promotes biodiversity and an “artisanal approach to agriculture,” to get in bed with a multinational corporation that rakes in $11 billion a year selling margarine and cans of Manwich sloppy joe mix.
Two years ago Bayless was the subject of an Eater profile that suggested he was the “most interesting man in the world,” and showed off his lush, private garden. Earlier this year he won a coveted Julia Child Award, which comes with a $50,000 donation to a charity of the recipient’s choosing. And though he’s steadily building up his empire and opening new restaurants in Chicago and beyond, this move seems to cheapen his brand — even as it lines his pockets.
Per the Tribune, the terms of the deal were not disclosed, so it’s hard to say just how many dollar signs Bayless and his business partner — a former Kraft Foods exec — were dazzled by. Frontera Foods says it doesn’t currently plan to make any changes to how or where its products, which it claims are handmade in “small batches,” are manufactured, but that may change down the line as it expands.
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• Rick Bayless' Frontera Foods Sold to ConAgra [Chicago Tribune]
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