Frozen Food Age

Shoppers of Latin Backgrounds Say ‘Si’ To a Growing Range of Hispanic Frozen Foods

By Howard Riell, Associate Editor Frozen Food Age

America increasingly dances to a salsa beat when it comes to food trends.

Hispanic foods continue to grow in popularity among American consumers of all ethnic backgrounds. In frozen, the higher quality, wider variety, greater convenience and offerings suited to our growing love of snacking and dining on the run are all contributing to growth.

The numbers are familiar by now to all serious marketers:

  • At least 14‰ of the nation’s total population is Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, making Hispanics the single-largest ethnic minority.
  • Of those, 65‰ are immigrants from Mexico, 9‰ are Commonwealth citizens from Puerto Rico, and 3‰ each are of Cuban, Salvadoran or Dominican origin.

Though Latino Americans themselves are, in fact, buying more frozen food, there is clearly progress to be made. According to research by the Chicago-based Mintel Group, and based on a Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, Hispanics consumers are “more likely to cook food from scratch, using fresh ingredients.” This can be seen in their “higher spending on fruits and vegetables, particularly fresh, and considerably lower spending on frozen prepared foods. However, as Hispanics acculturate, they will likely use a higher proportion of frozen and prepackaged food products. Indeed, while Hispanic foods are already widely available at many major supermarkets, they are also increasingly available in shelf stable and frozen varieties.”

According to Mintel/TechnoMetrica data released in the spring of 2006, only 25‰ of the 1,195 Hispanic consumers age 18 and above said they were “more likely” to choose frozen foods over scratch. The research company identified “the possibility of appealing to single Hispanic men with meal kits or frozen meals that closely resemble traditional foods so that they can produce a semblance of home cooked meals without having to know the recipes or techniques required to create them from scratch.”

On the positive side, Mintel/TechnoMetrica found, “the convenience of prepared or frozen foods also clearly trumps health concerns for at least some acculturated Hispanics.” Single Hispanics rely more on frozen and pre-cooked meals, “although for both married and single respondents relatively few admit to often dining on store-made, pre-cooked meals or frozen dinners.”

Global View

Americans’ love affair with Mexican/His-panic frozen foods is growing because “people travel more, so they are interacting with newer and different types of foods,” says Joe Perez, senior vice president, Goya Foods Inc., Secaucus, N.J. “Also, in the U.S. higher-end restaurants are experimenting with new flavors, and many of them happen to be from South America or Latin America. It is starting to filter down.”

Goya goes to market in both English and Spanish, with its website, video streaming, tie-ins with the Spanish-language TV and radio, posters and events such as parades and concerts. The company is about to kick off a new campaign in the Dominican Republic and Spain, and preparing to officially enter Mexico.

Goya has extended its line to include specialty items from Columbia and Central America. It has also expanded its frozen fruit pulps, whole frozen fruit lines, tropical fruits and plantain lines. The expansion of the frozen fruit pulp line offers freshly picked, peeled and pureed fruits in an assortment of tropical flavors such as Mango, Papaya, Passion Fruit, Pineapple and Coconut. New additions to the line include product from Lucuma (Peru), Naranjilla (Ecuador), Curuba (Colombia) and Pitahaya (Nicaragua).

Ahead in 2007 for Goya will be more specialty items focusing on Central and South America, Perez promises, as well as additions to its Mexican line.

“There is a market to fill,” says Perez. “Our consumer is generally Hispanic, from the Caribbean, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala. And of course the mainstream community that is looking for authentic product comes to Goya.”

Looking for Innovation

Consumers are “looking for innovation, new texture, new flavors,” says Bryce Ruiz, president & COO, Ruiz Foods, Dinuba, Calif. “At the same time they still desire convenience, ease in preparation, authenticity and consistency.”

Two recent frozen introductions include El Monterey Chorizo, Egg and Cheese Butcher Wrapped Burrito and El Monterey ‘Meatlovers’ Egg, Sausage, Bacon, Ham and Cheese Tornado. The chorizo introduction highlights the changing consumer tastes, says Ruiz. “Chorizo has a very distinct taste, and while I wouldn’t say it is an acquired taste, it is certainly not common. Consumers eat Mexican food in restaurants and now want to be able to enjoy those same flavors and spices at home or when they are on-the-go.”

The Butcher Wrapped Burrito is a response to the consumer’s increasing demand for breakfast items to go, he adds.

The new Tornado flavor “is also in response to an increased demand for breakfast choices in the hot-to-go segment of both the c-store and entertainment channel,” says Ruiz. “Wherever there is a roller grill, our El Monterey Tornados are a natural.”

‘Constant Craving’

Don Miguel Mexican Foods, Anaheim, Calif., has had to deal with some unexpected change of late, closing its Anaheim manufacturing plant and combining operations with its remaining facility in Dallas, Tex., when the city seized the land it sat on. Located virtually in the parking lot of Angels Stadium, the land was rezoned and will be turned into the “Platinum Triangle” with high-end commercial and residential real estate. But the Dallas facility has been upgraded, and the total processing capability actually increased.

“We spent a significant amount of resources increasing the amount of tonnage that we can put through the facility in Dallas,” says Bill Parker, executive vice president. C-stores make up the largest part of Don Miguel’s market, followed by club stores and only “minimal distribution” in traditional grocery stores.

“There is this constant craving for new products,” says Parker. “If you go back five years ago, we would have an onslaught of new items maybe once a year. Now it’s two or three times a year, almost like a continual process. I would say the majority of our growth has really been driven by items we’ve introduced in the last 18 months to two years.”

New items from Don Miguel in-clude Roller Grill Monster Taquitos. Beef & Green Chile, Chicken & Cheese, Sausage & Egg, and Spicy Beef Taquito. Among the line’s new appetizers are Beef Taquitos, Beef Mini Tacos, Chicken Taquitos, Chicken Mini Tacos, Beef & Cheese Mini Tacos, Beef & Cheese Taquitos.

In 2006, Don Miguel did “quite a bit” of business in variety packs called “fiesta platters,” according to Parker. These are larger-sized items with two to four different appetizers inside, designed for parties and late entertaining. Rolled out in September, the 36-oz. packages sell at retail for $7.99 to $10, depending on the channel. Also new last year was a line of smaller empanadas, retail priced at $4.99 per 28-oz. package.

In October, Don Miguel executives also introduced a line of chili cheese dogs: hotdogs in a tortilla with an extrusion of chili and cheese. “They’re great for dashboard dining,” says Parker. “We’re doing tremendous business with c-stores and have also rolled them out to select retailers including Wal-Mart. Those retail for about $4.99 per 20-oz. package.”

Parker and his colleagues see continued growth in the roller-grill segment. “This, again, is something the traditional retailers have not jumped on yet,” he says. “We believe there could be an opportunity for growth with traditional retailers on roller grill products behind the counter, in the service bellies. These are products that c-stores are really jumping on in a big way.”

Viva Convenience

Tom Catalano, brand manager for H.J. Heinz Co.’s Delimex brand, says he has seen “more movement toward some convenience items.” Hence, the brand’s introduction of the Delimex To Go! line last year. “I see that handheld portability, which this category is particularly well suited for, starting to show up at a variety of venues.”

Delimex To Go! is a line of handheld snack meals that cook inside the carton, which is specially designed for crisping in a microwave oven. The line, designed to go from freezer to table or car in under three minutes, consists of two varieties: Corn Taquitos with Shredded Beef, and Flour Tortilla Taquitos with Chicken and Cheese. Suggested retail price is $1.99.

The genesis of the line was “consumer insights,” says Catalano. “We do a lot of talking with consumers, and they are showing that the three-square-meals-a-day kind of behavior is drifting away. You’ve got families more active, and it’s harder for them all to come together. You get a lot more snacks-as-meals, the more frequent, smaller, standup, take-it-with-you kind of meals. You also have the refueling mentality.”

And while many Americans are going with dry snacks, Catalano adds, “they really prefer something a little more warm, satisfying and hearty. A lot of these handheld Mexican items are perfectly suited to that.” The product has also been launched as part of Heinz’s Bagel Bites line. Both varieties—Pepperoni & Cheese and Three Cheese — retail for $1.69.

Heinz’s brain trust has been “pleased by the retailer acceptance of the item,” says Catalano. In fact, he adds, “Some of some of them taken it without slotting just to get a on the strength of the idea. Early acceptance was pretty strong.”

There are, Catalano says, at least a couple of retailers who “actually believe there is an opportunity to create sort of a to-go section within the frozen snack set. Right now it’s a small handful who are actually putting the items together in order to create a destination for shoppers to find these quick, to-go items, but the vision is to create a whole portfolio of items.”

Organic Hispanic

“We elected to extend PJ’s Organics to embrace Mexican entrees,” says Alice Pacer, eastern regional sales manager, Elena Foods. “With the growing awareness and pursuit of a healthy lifestyle, along with the demand for entrees that are both delicious and convenient, we created PJ’s Organics. When reviewing the freezer aisle, it was very apparent that the growing category of meat entrees was not sufficiently represented by Mexican cuisine. Therefore, in August of 2006, PJ’s Organics was launched.”

PJ’s Organics markets itself as the first brand to offer 100‰ USDA certified organic meat burritos in three authentic Mexican flavor profiles: Chicken, Beef and Turkey Sausage & Egg. Each PJ’s Organics Burrito is made from fresh premium organic ingredients are hand rolled. Each burrito is 6 oz., with an SRP of $1.99 to $2.39.

PJ’s Organics is also introducing the first 100‰ USDA certified organic meat Tamale Entrées and Enchilada Entrées. In April, three traditional Tamale flavors will hit store shelves: Chicken, Pork, Bean & Cheese. Each entrée is served with a side of savory organic pinto beans. The 9.5-oz. item carries a suggested retail price of $5.29. PJ’s Organics Enchilada Entrées will be available in two authentic flavors: Chicken and Beef, served with black beans and Spanish style rice. The entrée, also 9.5 oz, carry the same $5.29 SRP. Management has yet to finalize the entrees’ package design.