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New wave of authentic Latino flavors hits the US

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 03-Apr-2009
Last updated on 03-Apr-2009 at 17:00 GMT

American Latinos and non-Latinos alike are driving a ‘new wave’ of authentic Latin American foods and flavors set to enter the mainstream in the US, according to a new report from Packaged Facts.

The early 90s saw the first Latin American foods penetrate the US market: Foods like salsa, black beans and chipotle chilies. Now both Latinos and non-Latinos are moving away from cheese-laden Tex-Mex and pork-heavy Puerto Rican foods towards smaller portions of healthier, authentic Latin flavors, Packaged Facts reports.

“As a result, suppliers and distributors are scrambling to find sources for authentic ingredients. And while the old school Americano perception of Latino food is that it’s hardly about healthy choices, the reality is quite different,” it said.

Predictions for success in consumer packaged goods (CPG) in the long term include bitter Seville oranges; sofrito, a Caribbean base sauce made from tomatoes, roasted peppers, garlic, onions and herbs, with many regional variations; and the herb epazote, which the report says ‘smells like grassy turpentine’ although it mellows when cooked.

“As it moves out of fine-dining Mexican restaurants, we predict epazote will become a common ingredient in canned and CPG products,” the report said.

As for other Latino foods set to make the cross to the American mainstream, the market researcher envisages that Aji Amarillo chilies – the fruity Peruvian chili – will soon make its way into salsas and spicy wings, much like chipotle chilies did in the 90s.

Latin American cheese

Much noise has already been made about the potential for Latin American cheese, and Mexican cheeses in particular.

According to the report, some manufacturers and retailers have “cautiously” started adding Mexican cheeses like Sargento or Tillamook to more traditional shredded blends for quesadillas, such as cheddar and jack.

The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board said that in the supermarket retail arena alone, the total value sales for Latin American cheeses in 2007 was $171m, which is estimated to rise to $278m by 2012.

Healthy options

In addition, consumers are demanding higher quality, chunky guacamole, and the rise of soft corn tortillas, with their healthy image, marks a move on from crunchy corn shells. Latin American rotisserie chicken is also becoming more popular, as young people in particular look for ‘comfort food with a twist’, that they also perceive to be healthy.

Finally, the lime and mint flavor of the mojito cocktail has already permeated many areas of the food and beverage market including soft drinks, confectionery, marinades and chewing gum, but Packaged Facts suggests that there is still plenty more scope for expansion.

In terms of strategy for introducing these Latin flavors, chef James Schenk, owner of Destino, one of the first Nuevo Latino restaurants in San Francisco, advised: “While demographics are powerful, building broad and sustained markets for Latino foods requires careful strategizing: phased introductions, lots of consumer education and an honest acknowledgment of what your customers really want.”

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