Hispanic foods constitute the biggest ethnic cuisine within the United States. Interestingly, the relatively high level of new product activity is driven not only by a growing number of Hispanic consumers but also by U.S. consumers as a whole. They are looking for bold flavors, diversity, portability and convenience—and they’re finding those attributes in Hispanic products.
New product activity is targeting both sectors of the population with more specialized and regional lines, more hot and spicy flavors and blends, more convenient and tasty snack and meal options and a gradual move into less well-known cuisines outside the traditional Mexican options.
Tortillas: Beyond the Basics
Tortillas have been a mainstay in Hispanic foods and continue to be so, despite the fact that they have moved squarely into the mainstream and often are now simply referred to as wraps.
Azteca was a pioneer and now leads the market for refrigerated tortillas. In mid-2014, the company reformulated and relaunched several products in a new “healthier for you” platform. New products have included four “no preservative” flour tortilla options in fajita, taco and burrito sizes; and a new mini snack-size for portion control and children’s snacks. Other lines contain added calcium and vitamin D, are made with Ultragrain-branded whole wheat flour, and offer organic, gluten-free, whole-grain and low-carb options.
Traditionally made from corn flour, tortillas are well-placed to make the most of the rising interest in gluten-free foods, but gluten-free varieties of flour tortillas also are appearing on the market. Udi’s Gluten Free entered the market in 2013 with its 6-inch and 9-inch gluten-free plain tortillas. Udi’s claimed to be the first national brand to offer tortillas that mimic the taste and texture of flour tortillas. Tortillas also are showcasing other ingredients, such as Food for Life’s gluten-free Black Rice Tortillas, which are made with black rice and are black in color. Elsewhere, there’s La Tortilla Factory and its Gluten-free, Wheat-free wraps made with the ancient grains teff and millet. La Tortilla Factory, founded in 1977, has pioneered a number of developments in healthy tortilla options, claiming the first fat-free flour tortilla and the first low-carb tortilla in the 1990s. Its most recent launch, in August 2014, was an organic, non-GMO range featuring traditional flour tortillas in burrito and taco sizes, gluten-free yellow corn tortillas and whole wheat tortillas.
Adding Value, Convenience
Of course, tortillas also serve as a base component in more value-added prepared foods. They appear in burritos and other frozen prepared entrees as well as in ready meal kits and salad kits for at-home preparation.
Some Mexican brands, such as Chi-Chi’s (which grew out of a restaurant chain of the same name), are known for their sauces, salsas and accompaniments. However, these brands increasingly have moved into higher degrees of convenience. For example, Chi-Chi’s marketer Hormel Foods has extended the brand into frozen breakfast burritos and appetizers, as well as into refrigerated prepared meats billed as “microwave meals.”
Likewise, Ruiz Foods continues to branch out and build its popular El Monterey frozen products line.
The Dinuba, Calif., company has targeted on-trend topics (breakfast, hot flavor) with items such as Breakfast Supreme Burritos (in a range of varieties), and Shell Shockers Taquitos featuring strong flavors applied to the outside of the product.
There still are many more Mexican foods from larger companies. One of the best known is probably is General Mills’ Old El Paso brand. Interestingly, Old El Paso also is a significant player in a number of European markets, including the UK. It has been an established US brand since the late 1930s and now encompasses a range of authentic-style Mexican-themed products: frozen meals, meal kits, rice and beans varieties, taco shells and tortillas, sauces, seasonings and condiments. Recent additions to its range include Mexican cooking sauces in stand-up pouches, featuring Chipotle, Chili & Roasted Garlic and Roasted Tomato options.
Pouch formats for cooking sauces seem to be an increasingly popular format offered as an alternative to more traditional cans and glass jars. Another Mexican brand, Ortega (part of B&G Foods), also recently launched a range of Mexican cooking sauces in pouches, featuring skillet sauces in fairly standard Taco and Fajita options, as well as a more unusual Cilantro & Green Chile variety.
Mexican lines also continue to be offered as part of mainstream sauce ranges, with launch activity recorded by Innova Market Insights during the past year or so. New offerings include Campbell Soup Co.’s range of Slow Cooker Sauces designed specifically for use in slow cookers. The range of mainly ethnic-themed sauces included a Mexican Red Chile Taco with garlic and sweet peppers. Another Campbell brand, Swanson, also has launched a range of Flavor Infused Broths for making restaurant-style ethnic recipes. One of three varieties is Mexican Tortilla, which features Monterey Jack cheese, lime, cayenne pepper, cumin, toasted corn, jalapeno and paprika.
Cashing in the Chips
Tortilla chips are another Hispanic product that has moved into the mainstream. Here, global giant PepsiCo dominates the category through Frito-Lay North America, its snack business which claims such well-known household names as Doritos and Tostitos.
Tortilla chips have benefited in recent years from a healthy, clean-label image, while developments in flavors and shapes also have kept interest in the sector. Demand for quality and authenticity has driven product activity across the sector, as reflected in recent launches involving more complex Mexican-style flavors and more restaurant-style products.
Tostitos found considerable success with its Cantina line, launched in early 2013 (following Tostitos Artisan Recipes in 2010). Tostitos Cantina chips come in Traditional and Extra Thin options and target younger consumers (18-30s) with a premium, restaurant-style chip. It was one of Information Resources’ “New Product Pacesetter” award winners in 2013, with value sales of more than $100m during its first year.
Meanwhile, sister brand and market leader Doritos also has continued to expand. It extended its Doritos Dinamita rolled tortilla chip line with a new Fiery Habanero variety in early 2014. That flavor joined the Chile Lemon and Nacho Picoso varieties. The Dinamita sub-brand was first introduced in 2012 to offer a unique shape delivering “extra crunch and flavor with a kick.”
Another mainstream market leader, Kellogg’s, has taken its Pringles brand into the Mexican foods market. Early 2014 saw Kellogg’s go national with Pringles Tortillas, which are stacked, tortilla-style chips. Kellogg’s says New Southwestern Ranch, Nacho Cheese, Truly Original and Zesty Salsa varieties are similar to tortilla chips in texture and flavor—while they come shaped, stacked and sold in canisters similar to original Pringles.
Late 2013 saw another interesting launch from RW Garcia. That company’s gluten-free, all-natural Tortatos snacks are made with a blend of white corn and red potatoes, described as half tortilla chip and half potato chip.
Beyond Our Borders
Although Hispanic foods in the US have traditionally been dominated by a Mexican influence, the term also describes other Latin American and South American cuisines. And indeed, consumers are expressing greater interest in new and unusual foods from other. This includes cuisines from Central American markets, such as Guatemala and Nicaragua; as well as countries further afield in South America, such as Peru and, more recently, Brazil.
Consumer interest in Peruvian foods is rising with more Peruvian restaurant openings and accompanying signs of retail market activities. Peruvian cuisine is a fusion of Spanish, African, Japanese and Chinese influences with native Quechua culture. Key ingredients include aji Amarillo (a yellow chilli), Chulpe corn, ancient grains such as quinoa, beans and potatoes and other tubers. Celebrity Chef Gastón Acurio has helped to drive Peruvian cuisine forward. Starting in Peru, he now has a global portfolio of restaurants including a number in the US. He also has written a number of books serving to promote awareness and interest in food from his home country.
Innova Market Insights also has tracked Peruvian-style foods in the retail market. New offerings include Sweet Earth’s The Peruvian Burrito, which features black beans, red quinoa and sweet potato; and Lundberg Family Farms’ Peruvian Style variety in its Organic Whole Grain Quinoa & Rice range (featuring a Peruvian-style seasoning). Other new entries include Zemas Peruvian Sweet Potato Pancake & Waffle Mix, with a superseed blend of hemp, chia and flaxmeal; and even Peruvian beer: Central Waters’ Peruvian Morning Imperial Stout.
Another early 2014 launch was Nazqiz Quancha air-toasted Peruvian corn snacks, which are made with Chulpe corn, a special variety grown in the Peruvian Andes. Flavor varieties are Original, Picante and Chimichurri options. Nazqiz was founded in 2013 by a Peruvian entrepreneur, Ronald Flores, who was looking to bring unique Peruvian snacks to the US market. The Quancha snacks are based on Peruvian toasted corn called Cancha, which has been part of the Peruvian diet since Inca times.
Brazilian cuisine also is tipped for further growth. The country came to the fore as host of soccer’s 2014 World Cup and it should benefit still more from the spotlight surrounding the forthcoming 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazilian restaurants are little known outside their native country other than traditional steakhouses or Churrascaria. Likewise awareness of Brazilian foods often is still confined to acai berries and the cane sugar spirit, cachaça, and the capirinha cocktails made from it. Perhaps now, too, there are more references to Brazilian coconut water. As in Peru, there is a high level of interest in beans, with Feijoada (beans with beef or pork) often described as Brazil’s national dish (although it actually has Portuguese origins). There is clearly an opportunity for Brazilian-themed cuisine to make more of an impact during the next few years.