A health market for Hispanic product

by Jeff Gelski
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Two merging Hispanic trends may present an opportunity for inclusion of produce, whole grains, folic acid and perhaps even low-calorie sweeteners in grain-based foods. First, the Hispanic population of 49.7 million has climbed to 16% of the total U.S. population in 2010. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2050, the U.S. Hispanics population will be nearly 133 million, making it 30% of the total U.S. population.

Next, the U.S. Hispanic population has some health issues. According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23% of Latino males in the United States are obese while 27.5% of Latino females are obese. Rates for non-Latino whites are 22% for males and 21% for females. Also according to the C.D.C., 10.4% of men and 11.3% of women in the Latino population have diagnosed diabetes. The general population is 7.2% and 6.3%, respectively, for men and women.

Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, a registered dietitian and founder of Hispanic Food Communications, Inc., Hinsdale, Ill., said she stresses to Hispanics that a healthier diet may involve foods familiar to them. Born in Puerto Rico, she moved to Mexico City at age 8 and eventually came to the United States to attend college.

“I do not like to blame one particular thing (ingredient),” she said of Hispanic health problems. “At the end of the day it is the calories we consume. And that is the problem with Hispanics. We just don’t know when to stop. If you put it on the table, we will finish it.”

Released in July, the Packaged Facts report “Hispanic Food and Beverages in the U.S.: Market and Consumer Trends in Latino Cuisine,” touched on the need for healthy Hispanic foods. It said, “Product designers also have the opportunity to create traditional products with healthier profiles, especially since many Mexicans in their home country and in the states have significant health problems exacerbated by obesity.”

According to the report, the U.S. market for Hispanic foods and beverages was almost $7 billion in 2009, marking a 7% increase from 2008 and a 29% increase from $5.4 billion in 2005. Packaged Facts projects sales of Hispanic foods and beverages will go over $9.5 billion in 2014. Eight Hispanic food and beverage categories, including bakery items at 10%, will experience double-digit compound annual growth rates during the 2010-14 forecast period.

Food service is another opportunity for Hispanic products. According to Technomic, limited service Mexican restaurant chains increased sales by 2.7% and unit counts by 1.8% in 2009. The number of Mexican entrees on U.S. restaurant menus increased 3.3% from the first half of 2009 to the first half of 2010.

“The rise in popularity of Mexican food is the culmination of a number of factors all converging in food service at this moment,” said Mary Chapman, director of product innovation at Technomic. “The fast casual boom is certainly part of the equation — Mexican concepts fit well into the fast-casual model. Consumers are also calling for authentic ethnic dining experiences and spicier, more flavorful foods, so Mexican concepts and menu items are on trend in a number of ways right now.”

Concepts involving pumpkin and sweet potatoes might be a way to offer healthier Hispanic fare, Ms. Melendez-Klinger said. Hispanics use pumpkin in such baked foods as empanadas, she said. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one cup of pumpkin has 3 grams of dietary fiber, 21 mcg of folate, 564 mg of potassium, 2,650 international units (I.U.) of vitamin A, 12 mg of vitamin C and 37 mg of calcium. Pumpkin may provide benefits in the immune system and bowel health, and it may lower the risk of hypertension.

One medium-sized sweet potato, another popular item in Hispanic cooking, offers 3.9 grams of dietary fiber, 28.6 mg of calcium, 265.2 mg of potassium, 18.2 mcg of folate, 29.51 mg of vitamin C and 2,6081.9 I.U. of vitamin A, according to the U.S.D.A.

Ms. Melendez-Klinger added mangoes have fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C. Mango, papaya, pineapple, pumpkin, strawberry and grape are popular among most Hispanics while people from Caribbean countries may crave coconut and more tropical flavors.

“If you see something that has plantain or has mango, you tend to kind of steer to those things,” Ms. Melendez-Klinger said of Hispanics in general.

Tortilla manufacturers are starting to add more whole grains into their product, she said. Quinoa, a whole grain, is popular in South America and Mexico. ConAgra Mills, Inc., Omaha, offers quinoa in its Ancient Grains line. The small, light-colored round grain has a nutty, earthy flavor, according to ConAgra Mills. Quinoa is gluten-free, has a superior protein quality compared to other grains and is a source of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron.

“When working with grain products, flavor masking is an important part to development,” said Sean Craig, senior executive chef of Spicetec Flavors & Seasonings, Omaha. “Bitterness is commonly associated with traditional whole grains. So it is important to work with flavors that can hide that undesirable note.”

Hispanic women may benefit by eating more white bread with folic acid in it. Daily consumption of folic acid, a B vitamin, beginning before pregnancy may prevent neural tube defects, according to the Food and Drug Administration, which mandates fortification of enriched flour with folic acid. Hispanic women are 1.5 times to 3 times more likely to have children with neural tube defects, Ms. Melendez-Klinger said Sept. 27 at a panel presentation sponsored by the Grain Foods Foundation at the International Baking Industry Exposition in Las Vegas.

Sugar reduction would seem to be a way to take on the problems of obesity and diabetes in Hispanics. According to the 2007 National Diabetes Fact Sheet, 10.4% of Hispanics were diabetic, which compared with 6.6% of non-Hispanic whites, 7.5% of Asian Americans and 11.8% of non-Hispanic blacks. Among Hispanics, the percentages were 8.2% for Cubans, 11.9% for Mexican Americans and 12.6% for Puerto Ricans.

Ms. Melendez-Klinger, however, said Hispanics generally do not like the flavor of low-calorie, high-intensity sweeteners, and synthetic sweeteners are in opposition with Hispanics who prefer natural ingredients.

“Simple, clean labels will be very appealing to Hispanics,” she said. “They really like to see the word natural displayed in their products.”

Food formulators will need to educate Hispanics on high-intensity sweeteners, she said. High-fructose corn syrup is another sweetener not well understood by Hispanics.

“It’s just a more inexpensive sugar,” Ms. Melendez-Klinger said. “That is all it is.”

Hispanics love agave, she said, adding some even believe incorrectly that agave is calorie-free.

“Nutrition is so misunderstood by Hispanics,” Ms. Melendez-Klinger said. 

Ingredients to add Hispanic appeal

Here are some potential ideas for grain-based foods formulators looking to add Hispanic appeal to their products:

• Allied Blending & Ingredients, Inc., Keokuk, Iowa, offers a 100% whole wheat tortilla Batchpak. In food service, the tortillas add a healthy component to tacos, quesadillas and portable snacks. Label opportunities at retail include “excellent source of whole grains,” “good source of fiber” and “no cholesterol.” The whole wheat tortillas are sweetened with raisin powder, honey and molasses.

• Quinoa, a grain in the Ancient Grains line from ConAgra Mills, Omaha, is indigenous to South America, where the Incas praised it as the “mother of all grains.” Quinoa is a source of calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron. It is also gluten-free.

• Dawn Food Products, Inc., Jackson, Mich., offers several Mexican product mixes and bases, including premium pastel de esponja (tres leches), classicos churros mix, pan de huevo base and bolillo roll/bread base.

• Spicetec Flavors & Seasonings, Omaha, narrows Hispanic flavors down to a region or culinary style that fits the customer’s target audience, said Sean Craig, senior executive chef of Spicetec Flavors & Seasoning.

“For example, when developing a Baja fish taco we focus on fresh flavors like cilantro, the grassy notes in jalapeños and crisp lime,” Mr. Craig said. “So a tortilla dough, for example, might benefit from a seasoning blend with a touch of lime or herbal note. If a product manufacturer was developing a frozen tamale, we would help the customer balance the corn-based masa taste with the savory flavors in the meat filling.”

• iTi Tropicals, Lawrenceville, N.J., procures pink guava from Ecuador to produce puree. Guava may add taste to sweet desserts and often is made into juice. Guave has dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid, potassium, copper and manganese.

• Van Drunen Farms, Momence, Ill., offers drum-dried sweet potato offerings, which produce a dried product that reconstitutes and retains its flavor, color and nutritional value, according to the company. Sweet potato pairs well with cinnamon, honey and nutmeg. It may be added to baked desserts, bread, puddings, casseroles, stews and croquettes. Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, high in beta carotene (vitamin A) and a source of vitamin E.

Two groups to target with Hispanic foods

Two broad groups of consumers are purchasing Hispanic foods and beverages, according to “Hispanic Food and Beverages in the U.S.: Market and Consumer Trends in Latino Cuisine,” a report released in July by Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md.

The first group consists of Hispanic consumers in search of authentic products and tastes.

Packaged Facts said, “Within this group the desire for authentic products varies in intensity between new immigrants who depend on familiar brands from their various homelands in Latin America; long-term immigrants who have accepted some U.S.-made alternatives to the products of their native land and who have modified their diets to include mainstream foods; and first-, second- and third- or more generation Hispanic-Americans who may be less interested in authenticity than convenience and whose diets incorporate mainstream foods to a much greater degree than the immigrant portion of the demographic.”

Mexicans constitute 66% of the Hispanic population in the United States. Puerto Ricans constitute 9%, and the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America and South America account for a combined 13% of Hispanics living in the United States. Eighty-three per cent of Hispanic households consume Mexican food and ingredients at a rate of 22% above the average for all U.S. households.

The second group of consumers consists of non-Hispanic consumers who have an appetite for flavors of various ethnic cuisines.

“Within this group are the serious ‘foodies,’ inspired by the many cooking shows on TV and the plethora of web sites on the Internet dedicated to the subject of food who seek out new and authentic dining experiences from the world’s cuisines,” Packaged Facts said. “This group is important for setting trends that impact the wide mainstream consumer market. But even without their leadership, the mainstream has taken to Hispanic foods over the years, starting with a taste for salsa and chips, Mexican beers, chili, and nachos, and expanding to include burritos, enchiladas, tacos and quesadillas.”

Of the U.S. households who use Mexican foods, beverages and ingredients, 14% are identified as Hispanic while 86% are non-Hispanic. Among Hispanic food and beverage categories in the United States, tortillas/taco shells, including kits, ranked first with sales of $2,175 million in 2009, which was up from $2,075 million in 2008, according to Packaged Facts. Bakery items were fifth at $248 million, up from $219 million in 2008.

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