Although it’s possible to manipulate data—these numbers don’t lie. Demographers estimate that Hispanic or Latino consumers—those with ties to Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean islands and Cuba—constitute an estimated 55 million people, or 17% of the US population. That figure is up from 35.3 million people or 13% of the US population in 2000. Moreover, experts forecast that Hispanic consumers will constitute more than 30% of the US population by 2060.

Not surprisingly, Hispanic-style food and drink products now comprise much of the US diet and even tend to be regarded as mainstream rather than specifically ethnic.

Speaking of mainstream meals, the most prevalent US Hispanic-style cuisine involves Mexican food, including its Tex-Mex extensions. Then again, Mexican cuisine itself is highly diverse with different ingredients and flavors. And although basic items—such as tortilla chips, salsa, tacos and quesadillas—continue to gain popularity, the market continues to thrive with renewed emphasis on authenticity and regional ingredients.

Key Components

Seasonings, sauces and peppers are popular ways to deliver new flavor adventures. Innova Market Insights finds this reflected in the increasing range of chili peppers used—and now referenced—for flavoring sauces, etc. New product launches no longer simply say “chili.” Instead, these items are calling out specific varieties.

During the first eight months of 2016, Innova Market Insights found that an estimated 70% of new products containing chili peppers—chose to identify the specific pepper used. Specific chili peppers such as arbol, ancho and poblano are featured by name as well as better-known varieties such as chipotle, habanero and jalapeno.

Interesting new product examples have included offerings from Bush Brothers & Company, Dandridge, Tenn., which extended its Cocina Latina canned beans line during the first half of 2016. New varieties include Frijoles Negros Machacados black beans with Poblano Chile; and Pintas a La Diabla pinto beans with a spicy chile de arbol, jalapeno and serrano pepper sauce. In the sauces and salsa aisle, Campbell Soup extended its Pace Foods line with Three Pepper Restaurant Quality Salsa including guajillo, ancho and pasilla peppers.

The spiciness of most Mexican recipes is complemented by other menu items, particularly tortillas. Tortillas continue to be a mainstay of Hispanic foods, although they are now squarely in the mainstream and often are simply identified as wraps. The market has evolved to become a staple in many households, targeting a wide range of consumers with different formats.

Despite this market’s relative maturity, it continues to grow thanks to manufacturers’ use of on-trend flavors, better-for-you ingredients (including ancient grains) as well as and clean label and free-from options.

New product activity recorded by Innova Market Insights since the beginning of the year has featured a number of launches from leading branded players. These included Ole Mexican Foods’ La Banderita Large Flour Tortillas in packs of 10, marketed as premium and authentic and “A Taste of Mexico.” Elsewhere, Mission Foods (Gruma Corp.) introduced Mission Carb Balance Burrito Whole Wheat Tortillas, El Milagro Inc. offered new flour tortillas for tacos, and La Tortilla Factory has developed a range of organic non-GMO tortillas in Whole Wheat, Sprouted Wheat, White Corn and Yellow Corn varieties.

Chip Off The Old Block

Tortilla chips have found considerable success in the US snacks market. Undoubtedly, this first corresponded to Hispanic consumers and product exposure in Hispanic restaurants. Today, however, this chip category has become a mainstream sector in its own right.

Of course, consumer interest in quality and authenticity has driven product activity across the sector in recent years. It’s brought more complex Mexican-style flavors and more restaurant-style products. On the shelf, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay snacks operation continues to dominate with more than 70% of sales and unit volume with its Doritos, Tostitos and Santitas brands. Unusually, in comparison with many salty snacks products, the share of private label has also remained very limited at less than 5% by value, leaving only a relatively small share for other brands.

There has been ongoing flavor development in traditional Doritos tortilla chips, with launches such as its Doritos Tapatio, co-branded with the hot sauce of the same name. Frito-Lay also has been developing new formats. Its Tostitos Cantina brand, launched in 2013 as a restaurant-style chip has also found considerable success and has recently extended into the thins market with its Chipotle Thins.

The restaurant-quality sub-category has built a considerable following, as illustrated by the double-digit growth for the On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina brand, owned by Truco Enterprises and aligned with the casual-dining chain of the same name. This took it to fourth place in the tortilla/tostada chip category through multiple retailers after PepsiCo, Bimbo and Gruma. Truco also launched a thins variety in early 2016 with its Cantina Thins, alongside a new Dippin Chips offering.

Restaurant-quality options have also reached the private label sector, including discount retailers, with 2016 launches including Aldi’s Pueble Londo Restaurant Quality Tortilla Triangles and Save A Lot’s Senora Verde Restaurant Quality Tortilla Chips.

Despite its relative maturity, the tortilla chips market is continuing to grow. The sector has benefited in recent years from a healthy, clean label image, while developments in flavors and shapes have also kept interest in the sector, as well as ongoing tie-ins with accompanying dips and sauces brands.

Of course, the US also has a large number of specialist Hispanic and Mexican food brands. Goya Foods, for example, claims to be the nation’s leading Hispanic-owned food company and it positions itself as the premier source for authentic Latino cuisine.

Established by a Spanish couple back in 1936, it focuses on combining authentic ingredients, robust seasonings and convenient preparation, providing consumers with over 2,200 high-quality and affordable products from the Caribbean, Mexico, Spain and Central and South America. Its portfolio includes beans, rice and grains, sauces, frozen foods, cooking ingredients and regional specialities. Recent launches include enriched rice and pasta products, Recaito cilantro-based cooking base and Adobo all-purpose seasoning with pepper.

For the record, the leading mainstream Mexican brand (certainly in terms of consumer awareness) is General Mills’ Old El Paso. Like Goya, it has been an established brand in the US since the 1930s and it now encompasses a range of authentic-style Mexican-themed products including shells and tortillas, dinner kits, rice and beans, sauces, seasonings and condiments. Recent additions to its range include Restaurante Soft Taco Dinner Kits, Mini Soft Tortilla Taco Boats and a Taco Seasoning Mix with 25% Less Sodium.

Future Forward: Brazil

While Mexican foods are likely to continue dominating Latin food trends, there is growing interest in other options, including foods from Peru, Argentina and Brazil. These are driven by rising numbers of restaurants and a complementary number of growing retail products. These countries’ cuisines also present interesting new fusions of indigenous foods as well as other influences from Europe, Asia and Africa.

A cuisine tipped for future growth is Brazilian, which came more to the fore as Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and then the Rio Olympic Games in August 2016. Although Brazil is the largest country in South America (and indeed the fifth largest in the world), awareness of its food has been relatively slow to develop. Most consumers associate Brazil with images of açai berries or the cane sugar spirit, cachaça (and the capirinha cocktails made from it).

It was only relatively recently, in 2013, that Brazilian cachaça was officially recognized in the US as a distinct spirit category, made from sugar cane. It used to be more simply known as “Brazilian rum,” just as tequila was called “Mexican rum” until 1968.

Cachaça not only might be the most popular spirit in Brazil, but also is the third largest spirits category in the world (although this is mainly because of the large amounts consumed by the sizeable Brazilian population). Production is put at as much as 1.2 billion liters a year. Only about 1% goes for export, with the US the number two destination after Germany, and its official recognition is expected to drive sales forward in the same way as it did for tequila, with sales having already quadrupled during a five-year period to about 100,000 cases a year.

Though it is best known for its role in caipirinha cocktails, cachaça is now starting to appear in more drinks as it becomes better known. Its popularity now has spread outside the original Brazilian restaurants and churrascarias in the US and Europe and it has become more of a standard in all kinds of bars and restaurants.

In addition to rising imports of more traditional Brazilian products, there also are more companies—particularly artisan-style operations—reproducing sweet and savory lines in the US. For example, specialist Brazilian snacks companies have started to appear, as exemplified by Brazi Bites, set up in 2009 by a Brazilian woman who simply missed her Pao de Queijo (cheese bread). Using a traditional family recipe, she developed a range of frozen Brazilian cheese bread snacks, which are suitable as appetizers, accompaniments or snacks. They come in Original, Bacon, Asiago and Jalapeno Pepper Jack varieties.

Likewise, another woman entrepreneur created FaBrigadeiros, a brigadeiros bakery that recreates the handmade Brazilian sweets of her home country. These truffle ball specialties come in range of chocolate, nut and fruit formats, as well as a Hispanic-style dulce de leche flavor and a more US-style peanut butter variety.

At the same time, Brazilian flavors have popped up in more mainstream products. In the months leading up to the Olympic Games, Frito-Lay’s “Passport to Flavor” initiative included a Brazilian option as one of four international Lay’s chip flavors. Brazilian Picanha potato chips featured the flavor of Brazilian steak, skewer grilled with coarse salt, and chimichurri sauce.  

Originally appeared in the November, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as Taste Adventure? ¡Sí!.