By: Robert Lovi By: Robert Lovi | November 3, 2022 | Food & Drink
JetBlue, the popular low-cost airline, known for its unlimited snack program, has partnered with South Florida-based plantain chip brand Chifles to continue supporting small, diverse businesses with unique stories and offering its more than 30 million annual customers the best curated in-flight experiences.
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Since the beginning, JetBlue has pioneered putting small brands on the map. Mariya Stoyanova, the company's director of product development, says the airline wants passengers to have access to the products offered onboard on the ground, so the company partners with brands that believe in good value, good quality and superior customer experience. "We look to partner with like-minded companies that believe in the same mission to elevate each other because when you are running towards the same goal, we can do magic," she said.
According to Stoyanova, the company rotates snacks every three years depending on its partners' growth and relevancy. For the snack selection process, she said the company chooses branded healthy snacks that customers can recognize but are also indulgent. Snacks with simple ingredients that are easy to understand; she said, Chifles pronounced chief-less fit the criteria. The company has used the onboard snacks program to create a platform for small snack companies, allowing them to grow and reach different customers through exposure. The airline was looking for a new chip when Chifles came along. According to Stoyanova, they asked other brands to submit their samples, and everybody loved Chifles. So, she thought this was an excellent opportunity to make a big partnership, and now the snack is one of the most popular among the passengers.
"We have close to 40 million customers, and getting your brand in front of them gives you credibility because we've had a lot of success with JetBlue's snack and beverage program through the years. And, we've developed relationships with many small brands with great stories such as Chifles; that is our undercover mission," Stoyanova said. "We've always looked for snacks and brands where we can highlight Hispanic Heritage Month, but that gives them limited exposure and could be a seasonal thing. It doesn't give them the full spectrum of opportunities they can achieve."
JetBlue has a special relationship with South Florida, mainly because the company's first flight was between New York and Fort Lauderdale. Because of that strong connection, Stoyanova said the partnership with Chifles hit all their goals and is a win-win for both companies. "We are also super invested in our communities in New York and Florida. We know this matters to them, and the community is super important. Especially for Chifles' main customer base and the product itself," she expressed. JetBlue prides itself on supporting small businesses with unique stories in the areas they serve, and Chifles has a fantastic story of resilience, which made the partnership even more attractive to the airline.
Chifles was founded in Tampa in 1953 by the Argudo family. This Ecuadorian family had gone to Havana, Cuba, where street vendors selling mariquitas (the word for plantain chips in Cuba) in brown paper bags inspired them. The company got its name after what they call plantain chips in Ecuador, but since the family couldn't trademark the word in their country, they relocated to the U.S. Today, the Rivas family owns the company, and their connection to it started with the father, Tony Rivas, when he immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba. He started working for Borges Distributors, a little distributorship in Miami, which genesis was to distribute Chifles. He ended up acquiring the distribution company in 1999. In 2017, when the founding family was looking to see who would carry the legacy, the Rivas family acquired the brand. However, just four months after, tragedy struck when a factory fire made them lose everything.
"We were just getting to know the business, and so we felt it was a time to bring it back down to Miami, where we had grown up and where my fondest memories with the brand were and rebuild here in South Florida. And that's what we did. And that was the brand's rebirth," said Tony Jr. Rivas, Chifles' president.
Rivas said that after the fire happened, they took that as an opportunity to showcase some things that attracted JetBlue to the brand. Chifles products are vegan and kosher, and they have 30 to 40% less fat than a traditional potato chip and no trans fat. "We realized that even though it's a Hispanic staple, and we grew up eating it, the general market was looking for healthier snacks, and we fit right in that category," he said.
According to Rivas, strong voices within JetBlue made this partnership possible because the company wanted to introduce something different to its customers, like a plantain chip onboard. He said now that Hispanic Heritage Month has ended, you hear big companies talk about diversity and inclusion during this month, but JetBlue "actually put their money where their mouth is" and brought the collaboration together in a way where perhaps other companies wouldn't have seen mainstream potential.
"If you look around, JetBlue is the only U.S.-based airline carrying a plantain chip, and I guess they thought why not, and it's proven successful so far. So it was people advocating within JetBlue for a snack like Chifles and JetBlue, listening," Rivas said. "This partnership means that people throughout the country and abroad, through JetBlue, can taste our culture and South Florida, where this brand has flourished. And for the company, it's just the next step in its evolution since the fire and the rebirth."
When Chifles first started having conversations with JetBlue, Rivas said they told him they would need to produce roughly 600,000 to 800,000 plantain chip bags a month, so he needed to increase production. As of October, he said, the company fulfilled over 1.8 million bags, only three months in. "We had to make adjustments, but they were necessary. I welcome the growth and the opportunity because this has nudged us to that next level. As a family-owned company, we are not afraid of growth and want to take the next opportunity from the air to the supermarket," he noted.
Customers can now find the original Chifles product on JetBlue flights. According to Rivas, offering the classic product was the best option to expand the regional brand to the rest of the country and other destinations abroad. He said that is the original chip is what put the company on the map six years ago. "Chifles has been in my life since I was born. My dad's been doing this for 50 years, so we've been around all our lives. So this is everything to me," he added.
Photography by: Courtesy Chifles