MONTERREY, MEXICO — Mission Carb Balance spinach herb and Mission Gluten-Free spinach herb tortillas turned in a “star” performance for Gruma Corp. in fiscal 2019, said Raul Cavazos Morales, chief financial officer.

Speaking to analysts during a Feb. 27 conference call to discuss fiscal 2019 financial results, Mr. Morales said Gruma debuted approximately eight new products last year, with the Mission brand spinach herb varieties playing a key role in a sales volume spike.

In the year ended Dec. 31, 2019, Gruma USA had operating income of 5,804 million pesos ($294 million), up 3% from 5,639 million pesos in 2018. For the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, operating income increased 9% to 1,500 million pesos ($76 million) from 1,379 million pesos.

Net sales at Gruma USA increased 5% in fiscal 2019 to 41,502 million pesos ($2,104 million), up from 39,547 million pesos. Net sales in the fourth quarter increased 7% to 10,392 million pesos ($526 million )from 9,753 million pesos.

Gruma said operating margin improved to 14.4% from 14.1% during the fourth quarter.

Cost of sales as a percentage of net sales improved to 57.5% from 56.9% in the fourth quarter. Gruma said the better sales mix within its tortilla business and lower wheat flour costs were not sufficient to offset cost pressures from labor, higher depreciation from increased production capacity, higher corn costs and a negative impact from the sales volume mix favoring corn flour.

Gruma said it spent $25 million on capital expenditures during the fourth quarter and $91 million for the full year. During the fourth quarter, the company allocated expenditures to the United States (in connection with land acquisition for corn storage and water treatment at a corn flour plant in Henderson, Ky., and capacity expansions at a tortilla plant in Dallas), to Europe (in connection with an equipment upgrade for corn chip production at a tortilla plant in Russia), to Mexico (for a tortilla plant in central Mexico) and to Malaysia (for equipment for tortilla and pizza crusts).

Looking ahead to 2020, Mr. Morales said Gruma plans to build a new facility in the U.S. Midwest “in order to avoid certain expenses and to benefit the quality of our flagship products, which will allow us to have better sales.”

“Also, we are expecting to increase production capacity close to the border of Mexico with a major production unit of corn flour, particularly in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas,” he said. “This mill will … supply some additional requirements for the Northeast region in the country, but more importantly to support the U.S. growth of corn flour, which is growing in a very good way.”