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Fast, fresh and flat Homemade tortilla-maker Flatev picks New Jersey for its U.S. operations

From left: Rutgers Food Innovation Director Lou Cooperhouse and Choose New Jersey CEO Michele Brown welcome Flatev's Scott Cross, Jonas Mueller and Carlos Ruiz.

Carlos Ruiz left his home in Guadalajara, Mexico, more than 14 years ago to learn English in Toronto. He then went backpacking through Europe and attended college in Switzerland.

Through it all, he realized one thing: How much he missed his mother’s cooking.

“I started gaining weight because premade food that is readily available is not always healthy and you cannot control the ingredients,” Ruiz said. “I ate a lot at home with my parents and that is when I realized how important food is.

“I never even realized how much I love tortillas until I left them.”

After making a mess in the kitchen in an attempt to recreate his family’s tortilla recipe, Ruiz turned to his friend, Jonas Mueller, an engineering student who lived with him in student housing.

Ruiz wanted to see if Mueller could help him create a small appliance — much like a single-serve coffee machine — for tortillas.

“Jonas replied, ‘Yes. What is a tortilla?’” Ruiz said.

That is how the idea for Flatev, a Zurich, Switzerland-based food and tabletop appliance manufacturer in the flatbreads space, was born.

Ruiz, co-founder, chairman and CEO, and Mueller, co-founder and chief technology officer, have worked since 2012 to create a viable prototype that would give consumers the ability to produce freshly baked flatbreads, tortillas and cookies via single-serve pods.

Think of it as a Keurig for flatbread.

“Our Artisan Baking System produces organic, all-natural tortillas and flatbreads, which are non-GMO and contain no artificial preservatives or additives,” Ruiz said. “The hot, just-baked tortillas, which are ready in less than two minutes, are scrumptious, fresh and carry an amazing aroma.”

Ruiz and Mueller raised more than $135,000 in 30 days on Kickstarter with more than 660 backers, catapulting the campaign to the Top 1 percent of food projects.

Ruiz said there’s a simple reason why.

“Packaged food companies lost more than $4 billion in the market share last year because shoppers are becoming more aware,” he said. “People are looking for authenticity and transparency in ingredients and nutritional facts. People want real food.

Waste not
Carlos Ruiz, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Flatev, not only was dissatisfied with his diet when leaving home — he was dissatisfied with the amount of waste he and his fellow students were creating.
“What happens when you buy tortillas or bread is that you open it, you consume some of it and the rest typically ends up in the garbage,” Ruiz said. “Forty percent of food waste happens in households.”
With Flatev’s Artisan Baking System and dough pods that can be refrigerated for up to six weeks, consumers can do their part to reduce food waste.
“Make whatever tortillas, rotis and flatbreads you need as you need them, eat what you want and keep food fresh,” Ruiz said. “Our single-serve plastic pods also can be recycled, and we are always working with other companies to innovate our single-serve pods without plastic.
“We are always working with different companies and universities to try to bring something sustainable to the world.”

“There is an opportunity here for startups to partner with companies who know the market and have access to distribution channels.”

For Flatev, that man was Scott Cross, its chief business development officer. After meeting Cross in Chicago, Ruiz hired him to help the company raise nearly $5 million in funding in order to engineer its appliance and dough products with teams in both the U.S. and Switzerland.

That is when Choose New Jersey, the privately funded business attraction and retention arm of New Jersey, heard about the company through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-run Select U.S. and hopped on board to help introduce Flatev to the Rutgers Food Innovation Center.

“We work with the state university, Choose New Jersey, the Business Action Center and the Economic Development Agency to foster relationships in order to attract international companies to New Jersey,” Lou Cooperhouse, executive director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center, said. “Flatev chose to come to New Jersey because of our center’s international outreach program that supports companies like them with marketing, sales strategy, product development, quality assurance, hiring, process engineering and more.”

Flatev’s organic dough single-serve pods will be produced at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center this fall after it establishes its first global manufacturing operation in Bridgeton.

“We are very pleased that Flatev has chosen to establish their first global operation within our FDA- and USDA-inspected facility,” Cooperhouse said. “There is a clear consumer trend in conveniently packaged products that are prepared at home and away from home, and Flatev is pioneering this trend in a category where freshness is extremely important.”

The appliance, however, will continue to be developed and manufactured in partnership with Eugster-Frismag in Switzerland.

“Flatev is emblematic of how global the food industry is now,” Michele Brown, CEO and president of Choose New Jersey, said. “A company based in Switzerland with offices in New York will manufacture the machine in Switzerland, but when they needed a place in which to innovate and develop products, they chose New Jersey.

“New Jersey has powerful assets, including the resources at the Food Innovation Center, to help pioneering startup companies like Flatev flourish. Their first-to-market baking system will be a welcome addition to the Garden State’s growing list of innovative food products.”

Flatev is hoping to target more than two-thirds of the world in a more than $12 billion multicultural market with its products.

“We are dedicated to empowering consumers with a convenient way of preparing fresh and tasty tortillas, roti, flatbreads, cookies and more uncompromised in authenticity, quality, taste and nutrition,” Ruiz said.

Flatev plans to offer more than a dozen varieties of single-serve dough pods and rapidly expand its current employee base of 15 and more than 20 global investment and development partners, he added.

“We project to be a $24 million company by 2018,” Ruiz said.

Flatev will begin its growth via a pilot model with hotels and commercial campuses before expanding into a consumer-based subscription model.

The company then plans to partner with U.S. food distributors, sell direct-to-consumer and partner with home delivery companies such as Blue Apron and Amazon.

When the company does expand into global retail, Ruiz said, Flatev anticipates that the pods will sell for about 80 cents each and the appliance will be priced between $399 and $599.

“This company is so exciting and unique to this world,” Cooperhouse said. “There is such a demand, as all of us as consumers are looking for convenient, healthy products that taste great and are nutritious. These next generation of products are coming into our homes so we can prepare those items ourselves.”

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

Meg Fry

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