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Mexican Food Undergoes Category Expansion

There was a time when the term ‘Mexican Cuisine’ meant tacos and salsa. But the landscape of ethnic cuisine has changed and along with it consumers’ desires when they hit the ethnic aisle. Mexican foods have seen significant category expansion over the years.

“Mexico has been a very prevalent vacation destination for many Canadians. Along with the growing popularity of Mexican food in North America this helps expand the Mexican food category in local grocery stores. Canadians who have tasted the true authenticity and real flavour of Mexican dishes are adding these recipes in their kitchen,” explains Terry Wong, director of authentic ethnic foods, Tree of Life.

Renfro Foods attributes part of the category expansion to consumers eating healthier foods.

“Salsa is inherently healthy. It contains no fat, no cholesterol and very little sugar. Granted the consumer may pour it over cream cheese or consume it with chips, but it can also be used as a marinade or salad dressing — adding no additional fat to a barbecued protein or to a salad,” shares Doug Renfro, president. “It has experienced strong double-digit growth several years in a row.”

Over time Mexican cuisine has grown as an influence on flavour preferences. Starting in the ‘70s and ‘80s its popularity began to grow as consumers expanded their palates.

According to Billy Roberts, senior food and drink analyst, at Mintel, Mexican food can be safely regarded as mainstream. 80 per cent of consumers indicate they have had the cuisine within the past three months — with 44 per cent of those via dishes they made at home.

“With such a widespread popularity — consumers are looking for more regional variations of Mexican cuisine: Oaxacan, Yucatan and Baja for example,” says Roberts.

Currently Tree of Life has found that the most popular items in the Mexican aisle are tortillas, nachos, salsas, beans, hot sauces, flours, juices and snacks. While in the refrigerated section corn tortillas and Mexican cheeses can be found.

“Many of these products are ingredients that can be used in dishes such as tacos, nachos, chilaquiles, tostadas, mole, tamales, guacamole and margaritas,” says Associated Brand Manager, Nancy Quispe with Tree of Life.

“Tree of Life is consistently searching for new products that will bring the authenticity and quality to Mexican cuisine. These products are designed to inspire nostalgia and tradition to the Hispanic consumer, while being friendly to the Canadian consumer. For example: new flours, snacks, dried chillies, chocolates and seasonings,” she adds.

Ruiz Foods provides consumers with a wide variety of flour taquitos, burritos and chimichangas including Southwest Chicken Taquitos in a Seasoned Batter and Chicken, Rice and Bean Burritos. President, Rachel P. Cullen shares that other introductions will soon be available to the Canadian market.

“Our El Monterey brand of frozen Mexican foods lends itself to the wants and needs offering great taste and quality, convenience and value. In addition, Mexican food offers today’s consumer so much variety in texture, taste spice and even heat levels – and today’s consumers enjoy experimenting with each,” Cullen says.

Tex-Mex style salsa with gourmet and interesting flavour profile are a specialty from Renfro Foods.

“In Canada, our best-sellers are our Green (Jalapeno), Habenero, Black Bean, Peach and Mango Habenero salsas. In addition to these items there are nine more choices. We also produce three varieties of Nacho Cheese Sauce (Regular, Chipolte and Ghost Pepper). The evolution of exciting flavour profile has really expanded the product offerings and purchasing,” says Renfro. “Consumers are also starting to use it as a marinade, salad dressing as it adds no additional fat to the protein or salad.”

“When we review every section we want to ensure that we have an outstanding variety of best-sellers within the category. We look at the sales history within our company, vendor information as well as points of differentiation. We want to offer our customer the best variety at the most competitive pricing within our market place,” shares Mike Pare, store manager, Nesters Market Gastown, whose Mexican food section currently consists of 108 linear feet broken down in 27 four foot shelves.

When it comes to merchandising choice is key. Truly authentic products can be placed with the mainstream Mexican/ Tex Mex branded items.

“This will offer shoppers the choice between well-known Mexican brands that uses fine ingredients and provides true taste of authenticity versus North American brands,” says Wong.

Many Mexican items can provide retailers with great merchandising appeal.

According to Wong in order to maximize potential sales, retailers should consider the following: taco seasoning, fresh tortillas next to ground beef, chimichuuri and hot sauces next to the meat section salsa, and sliced jalepeno next to nacho chips. In regards to salsas Renfro notes that they also move very well when featured on end caps during key times of year such as football playoffs and winter holidays.

For Nesters Market Gastown their Mexican food section is continually growing and changing. With new products always becoming available they review their set each time to ensure they have the best product mix available to their customers.

“Our goal is to take advantage of larger scale purchasing opportunities that will entice our customer to save money on their purchases. Thus we are always looking to cross-merchandise selected produce items (avocadoes, tomatoes along with salsa seasoning, tortilla chips and salsas). These larger scale displays also give us opportunity to showcase a ‘fresh’ look that ultimately helps to entice our customers to make impulse purchases of higher margining fresh produce as well as highlight the savings of the Mexican items,” says Pare.

It is clear that Mexican cuisine ceases to be taco kits and salsas for today’s consumer and as their palates and tastes continue to expand so will their desire for the Mexican aisle to expand as well.


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