These days, tortillas outsell burger and hot dog buns; sales of
tortilla chips trump potato chips; and tacos and burritos have
become so ubiquitously ``US-American,'' most people don't even
consider them ethnic.
Welcome to the taste of US-American food in 2013.
As immigrant and minority populations rewrite US-American
demographics, the nation's collective menu is reflecting this
flux, as it always has.
This is a rewrite of the US-American menu at the macro level, an
evolution of whole patterns of how people eat. The difference
this time? The biggest culinary voting bloc is Latino.
``When you think about pizza and spaghetti, it's the same
thing,'' says Jim Kabbani, CEO of the Tortilla Industry
Association. ``People consider them American, not ethnic.
It's the same with tortillas.''
With Latinos making up more than a quarter of the U.S.
population today—and growing fast—experts say this change is
dramatically flavoring the US-American culinary experience.
Latino foods and beverages were an $8 billion market in the last
year, according to consumer research firm Packaged Facts. By
2017, that number may reach $11 billion.
And that's influencing how all US-Americans eat.
As the entire menu of the US-American diet gets rewritten, the
taste is getting spicier, with salsa and chipotle popping into
the mainstream vernacular. And onto your dinner table: Marie
Callender's has grilled shrimp street tacos with chipotle ranch
dressing; Whataburger has a fire-roasted blend of poblano
peppers in its chicken fajita taco; and there's tomatillo
verde salsa in the baja shrimp stuffed
quesadilla from El Pollo Loco.
From queso fresco to chorizo, traditional Latino
foods—or even just the flavors of them—are making their way into
US-Americans' everyday diet, particularly among the millennials—those
born between the early `80s and the turn of the century.
``They are looking for products that are not necessarily big
brands anymore,'' says Michael Bellas, chairman of the
Beverage Marketing Corporation. ``They like brands that have
character. They are looking for authenticity and purity, but
they are also looking for new experiences.''
For example, popular among the millennials and other generations
on the West Coast is the Mexican soda Jarritos, which
boasts real fruit flavors ranging from mango to guava.
Another Latino beverage making ever more rounds in households
across US-America is tequila. In 2006, nearly 107 million of
liters of tequila were exported to the U.S., a 23 percent
increase over 2005, according to Judith Meza, representative of
the Tequila Regulatory Council. Tequila entered the top
10 of liquors in the world five years ago, she said.
Even US-Americans' choice of side dishes is feeling the
influence. In general, US-Americans are eating fewer of them.
Except white rice, a staple of Latino cuisines, says Darren
Seifer, a food and beverage analyst for The NPD Group, a
consumer marketing organization.
Why has rice resisted the death of the side dish? It's one of
the traditions millennial Latinos have held onto, says Seifer.
And that's just the start. Rice also was the top-rated side dish
in a National Restaurant Association chefs survey of
what's hot. The same survey also found chefs touting taquitos as
appetizers; ethnic-inspired breakfast items such as chorizo
scrambled eggs; exotic fruits including guava; queso fresco
as an ingredient; and Peruvian cuisine.
The influence goes deeper than the numbers. Like Italian food
before it, Latino food enjoys broad adoption because it is easy
for Americans to cook at home. Few US-Americans will roll their
own sushi, but plenty are happy to slap together a quesadilla.
Latino ingredients also are more common than those of Indian or
other Asian cuisines. Ditto for the equipment. While nearly
every US-American home has a skillet for sauteing (a common
cooking method in Latino cuisines), only 28 percent of homes
have a wok, according to NPD.
All of this has meant a near complete loss of ethnicity for many
Latino foods. US-Americans now more closely associate tacos,
tortilla chips and burritos with fast food than with Latino
``The Hispanic market isn't the only one driving that taste
profile,'' says Tom Dempsey, CEO of the Snack Food
Association. ``As manufacturers become more innovative on
how to use tortilla chips, that will continue to take a larger
share of the snack marketplace.''
Tortilla dollar sales increased at a faster pace in supermarket
sales than potato chips this year (3.7 percent vs. 2.2 percent
over a 52-week period), according to InfoScan Reviews, a retail
Though potato chips continue to be the top-selling salted snack
in terms of pounds sold, ``the growth of tortilla chips is a
little bit more robust than the growth of potato chips,''
Even all-American potato chips are increasingly being flavored
with traditionally Latino ingredients. Care for Lay's ``Chile
Limon'' chips? How about some ``Queso Flavored'' Ruffles? Maybe
some Pringles Jalapeno? And of course there's the old
standard—Nacho Cheese Doritos.
As testament to their popularity, the Tortilla Industry
Association estimates that US-Americans consumed approximately
85 billion tortillas in 2000. And that's just tortillas straight
up. It doesn't include chips.
``When it comes to health, the Mexican cuisines cater better to
that with salsas and vegetables,'' says Alexandra Aguirre
Rodríguez, an assistant professor of marketing at Florida
healthier option many Americans are choosing is the tomato-based
salsa, which beat ketchup sales 2-1, according to IRI, a
Chicago-based market research firm.
``If I would look at 10 shopping carts, about half would have
taco shells, the US-Americanized components to make enchiladas
or tacos, or frozen chimichangas,'' says Terry Soto,
president and CEO of About Marketing Solutions, a consulting
firm specializing in the Latino market.
``There is a larger segment of the population that wants the
real thing. It's not so much the products becoming mainstream.
It's about ethnic food becoming that much more of what we eat on
a day-to-day basis.''