The demand for international foods, including Hispanic or Latinx*, is rising, thanks in part to the increasing diversity of the U.S. population.
The Latinx community represents nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population, according to information and data analytics firm Nielsen, and the U.S. Census Bureau projects it to double to 109 million over the next 40 years.
Globalization means young consumers, regardless of individual ethnicity or race, are more exposed than ever to different foods and cultures.
“These younger consumers are more experimental than older generations, especially when it comes to food selection,” said Julie Heseman, principal, Foodservice IP, a research-based management consulting firm that specializes in foodservice.
Young customers will come to expect more international options from the c-store and beyond.
Rockford, Ill.-based Road Ranger, which operates 39 locations in the midwest and Texas, set out to create a new, Mexican foodservice option about five years ago: Tejas Taco Co. The brand features fresh, made-to-order tacos and other popular Mexican fare, available at all dayparts.
“We’ve had really good reception — the locals like it as well as the drivers,” said Ryan Arnold, vice president of marketing for Road Ranger. “It’s a program that, because of its success, we’re going to continue to grow.”
Trends to Watch
Heseman predicts that, as tacos and burritos become increasingly mainstream, the next Mexican food to gain traction among American consumers will be the tamale, due to its portability and convenience. But, for c-stores new to Mexican foodservice, she said, it’s best to start with what makes the most sense operationally.
“If they have a roller grill, taquitos would be a great addition. If they make hot sandwiches to order, then tacos or burritos would be an easier new menu item to add without having to change the existing equipment on-site,” she said.
Kara Nielsen, food trend expert and principal of Kara Nielsen Food Trends, pointed to another key trend: the use of more ingredients that are indigenous to Latin America, such as corn, to create an offer that both resonates with people of the culture but still has widespread appeal.
For example, pupusas — a thick flatbread from El Salvador made with cornmeal or rice flour — could easily be stuffed with ‘American’ classics, she said, like hamburger meat or pizza, rather than something more traditional.
*Latinx is the gender-neutral term for those from or descendants of Latin America. Hispanic refers to native speakers of Spanish or those with Spanish-speaking ancestry.