This will be part of an ongoing series called Internet Deep Dives. Each week I will pick one food item, brand or category and give you more information than you thought you ever wanted to know. The fun part is I do the research as I’m writing the piece, so I learn along with you. This week, we dive into one of my favorite cheap eats, Tina’s Burritos. The reason I chose this brand is because Tina and I have had a long time affair. I’ve been eating her Red Hot Beef Burritos since I was ten years old and consider them to be the gold standard in frozen burritos. I was curious who this Tina is and how she is making such great product that is commonly sold for twenty cents a piece. Here we go.
I suffered a major blow right out of the gate in my research. There is no Tina. Throughout my years of eating these burritos filled with textured vegetable protein, I always had a story in my head about this Tina. A lady from a poor neighborhood cooked small burritos for her friends and family and as they began to move away she would freeze bags of them so they could enjoy her burritos in their new neighborhoods. They would then share them with their new neighbors who would go on and on about how good these burritos were. One day, a neighbor turned out to be a rep for a frozen food company who demanded to know where these delicious frozen burritos were coming from. He traveled miles and miles to meet with Tina and convinced her to sell her recipes to his company and become a consultant for a new “Tina’s Frozen Burritos” product line. After a few months the company swindled Tina, as she didn’t know to sign a proper contract, robbing her of her recipes with only a small percentage in company stock to show for it. From there, the company figured out a way to take Tina’s original recipe and replace all the good ingredients with things like textured vegetable protein, driving the price down to quarters for a single burrito. Tina returned home and still makes her famous burritos for friends and family to this day.
OK, so that’s far from the real story of Tina’s burritos but it’s far more interesting, I’m sorry to say. There isn’t even an attempt to post a picture of a lady rolling a tortilla and saying she is Tina. There just is no Tina. This was an absolutely crushing blow to me but I needed to to go on. Maybe I could find some sense in all of this.
Tina’s Burritos was started in 1980 by a company called Camino Real Foods based out of California. Based off the financials I found, it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one buying Tina’s Burritos in bulk. Camino Foods does an estimated $127 million in annual revenue and employs 410 people. They only produce one other product so some quick math leads me to believe that they are possibly selling close to half a billion frozen burritos per year. They are the number one single service frozen burrito producer in the world and currently own 60% market share. They were purchased in 1988 for $7 million by Nissin Foods, the company that brings you Top Ramen and Cup Noodles, but sold off in the early 2000s and now act as a privately owned company.
In the early 2000s, Tina’s decided to change up their recipe and size of the burrito to drive costs even lower. There was such public outcry that Tina’s reverted back to the original recipe and issued multiple press releases letting their customers know that they had gone back to their original spicy goop filled burrito recipe.
That is literally ALL of the information available about this mysterious burrito company. That’s where the fun comes in on these deep dives. I figured there would be fake Tina back story or that she was a real burrito making lady. You would think a company producing that much revenue with that many employees would have more of a story out there, but no. Tina’s Burritos likes their story just like they like their grocery story freezer placement: hiding on the bottom shelf.
While I was short on information, which completely ruins this first internet deep dive, I DID learn one important bit of information. Tina’s is EXPANDING. For 22 years I have had no issues with consuming hundreds of Red Hot Beef Burritos every year with out even dreaming of new flavors. Soon, they will be offering a line of Quesoritos, coming in three different flavors: Fajita and cheese, Chicken fajita and cheese, and finally… Beef, cheese and bacon. I can not wait.