“We are really following US development so that at the end of the day … consumers are worried about clean label, protein, digestive wellness as well as plant-based products broadly … and we are working to show them our concepts to give those requirements,” Mario Ruiz, director of nutrition & health for DuPont Nutrition & Health in Mexico, Central America and Caribe, told FoodNavigator-USA.
But, he warned, “something that is different here in Mexico is that customers are looking for affordable products … and many of these [on-trend] products are a little bit more expensive, and consumers are not really eager to pay for that difference.”
As a result, he said, “if you are launching in the US something that is different, we are a little bit behind and sometimes we are not able to follow a trend as soon as it is starting.”
Ruiz explained that this reticence and the subsequent delay is not because Mexicans do not see the value in added-protein, clean label or functional foods to support digestion, but rather because Mexico’s economy is weaker than the US economy.
“If you look at Mexico as a whole country, we have the Northern part of Mexico, which is highly developed, has a higher income,” and people here are more likely to spend money on trendy foods, he said.
But, he added, “‘if you look at the Southern part of Mexico, it is worse. People cannot afford to buy a lot of social products, so they eat what they have at home … corn, beans, rice, etc. These kinds of basic foods. So, when you are talking about a yogurt or something like that, it is more of a pleasure and some people will not buy these products because they cannot afford them daily.”
Thus creating products that are on-trend and affordable without eating into already slim margins, is a major hurdle for product development in Mexico, Ruiz said. But, he adds, it is possible if “we adjust our development in order to fulfill the consumers’ different needs” and level of commitment to the trends.
The children are the future
For example, people across the country will buy higher-value products for their children when possible or as a special treat, Ruiz said. He pointed to the ongoing demand for milk and the opportunity this creates in the adjacent plant-based beverage segment.
“People here continue to buy milk because it is an affordable product and because it gives nutrition to our population,” he said. But, other plant-based proteins can also fill this need and potentially at higher levels and lower costs because of differences in processing between Mexico and the US, he added.
“In Latin American countries, processed milk can contain a higher percentage of vegetable product and that is an area for opportunity for us as an ingredient supplier, and of course, for the food processors, as well,” Ruiz said.
Protein-fortified snacks are another area for potential development and one which, by virtue of the products’ smaller size and price point, might be within reach of more consumers in Mexico.
Digestive wellness is coming into focus
Another area of opportunity in Mexico is yogurt, Ruiz said. He noted at the Food Tech Summit & Expo in Mexico City in late September, attendees were very interested in a yogurt prototype created by DuPont to demonstrate how its stabilizers and ingredients can create a thick, creamy product that also delivers on protein and digestive health.
“Like I was telling you how Mexico is sometimes a little bit behind, our companies are just looking at Greek yogurt,” so this represents a wide-open white space, Ruiz said.
Part of the appeal of yogurt is the digestive support the fermentation and probiotics provide, he said.
“Digestive health is something that is important everywhere, but also in Mexico we have a lot of issues” in part because many of the typical foods are high in fiber and consumers need probiotics to help provide balance and elevate the gut health, he said.
At the same time, Ruiz says he sees opportunity for products with added-fiber. However, he cautioned, manufacturers likely would have more success fortifying foods and dishes that are authentic to Mexico because citizens place a high value on eating traditional dishes.