Volume 3 | Issue 1 | Year 2007

Latin food is hot. And we’re not talking just spicy.
Whether it’s “Mexican,” in the sense of how many Americans have experienced the cuisine, or authentic, in the way that “true” Mexican cuisine is starting to spread from fine dining to fast casual establishments, or Latin, in the way that regional cuisines from across Central and South America (and the Caribbean, for that matter), are quickly taking hold in the U.S., Latin foods are fueling foodservice revenues.

There is general agreement among restaurant industry analysts that the growth in both Latin dining establishments and in Latin menu items will continue for many years to come, as the Hispanic population grows faster than the total population. Diversification into regional and fusion cuisines in all market segments is expected to continue as is the menu-innovation leadership of independent restaurants with chefs and/or owners with backgrounds in Latin communities. If the U.S. market for Latin foodservice continues to grow at the same 3 to 4 percent rate as in recent years, it could reach more than $20 billion by 2008 and more than $25 billion by 2015.

What’s driving this growth? The factors are varied and positive.

First, first there’s the well-publicized growth in the Hispanic American population, both in terms of sheer numbers and spending power.

But also propelling the market are factors inherent to the cuisine itself.

Unlike Italian and Asian cuisines, Latin has something to offer at any time of the day, so operators can cash in on the rapidly growing breakfast market, and on-site foodservice providers can offer something less fattening than traditional bacon or waffles. Latin works perfectly with prepared cut fresh fruit, a hot item in all food channels, especially with women consumers. And Hispanics are increasingly targeted in the morning/day part by quick-service restaurants; in the evening Latinos are more likely than non-Hispanics to cook from scratch and eat at home.

Because Latinos work in and have brought their skills and flavor preferences to every channel and every level of food service in the United States, menu innovations are emerging from chefs in the traditional channel of fine dining, as such trends typically do, but also from single-unit operators, business and institutional food service, QSR chains, and even street-food kiosks.

Food manufacturers and importers have been rushing to meet demand with new product introductions, and with new and less labor-intensive ways of preparing suddenly very popular foods, such as avocadoes and papayas, both significant in Latin cuisines. Distributors are scrambling to find sources of exotic beans, corn, peppers, and fresh tropical produce for foodservice customers. The Nuevo Latino and “fresh-Mex” categories, relatively new entrants in the Latin category, forego freezers and microwaves in favor of preparing food fresh on-site, sometimes even at the customer’s table or at food stations. This category lends itself to exhibition cooking, a technique used by many operators including some in noncommercial foodservice. Small local ethnic bakeries and tortilla manufacturers have big opportunities in supplying business and institutional food service.

Don Montuori is publisher of Packaged Facts, a part of MarketResearch.com, which is the world’s largest and continuously updated collection of market research. For information visit www.MarketResearch.com.