Foods targeting Hispanic consumers are more available than ever in mainstream markets. (Photo/Andy Nelson for Getty Images)

More than ever, big brands make Latino flavors mainstream

Strolling the aisles of your local supermarket, you can pick up dulce de leche Cheerios or dulce de leche ice cream. You can dig into a bag of potato chips flavored with chile, lime and Tapatio hot sauce , or if you’re in the mood for a burrito, stop by your nearest Taco Bell or Chipotle to get your fix. And with the news that McDonald’s has just added café con leche to its popular McCafé line of offerings in New York City metro-area and Miami stores, it’s clearer than ever that Latinos can get a taste of home in fast food restaurants and grocery stores, while simultaneously exposing American taste buds to Latin products.

“The Hispanization of the American palate has been a strong trend for the past five years,” says Stephen Palacios, executive vice president at consulting and marketing research company Added Value Cheskin. Citing research by the Food Marketing Institute, Palacios says that the trend has steadily gained value in the mainstream market and hasn’t yet reached its peak.

“Chipotle is one of the most popular quick service restaurants to date – its IPO was one of the most successful in that sector, perhaps ever,” notes Palacios. “That success is clear evidence of the fact that all across America, there’s been a cultivation and preference for Latino flavors and we’re seeing that more than ever with mainstream brand offerings.”

With a collective purchasing power of $1.2 trillion dollars, Latino consumers have earned the attention of big box stores, brands and restaurants. Add to that hefty figure the fact that U.S. Latino shoppers make an average of 26 grocery store trips per month – three times greater than the general U.S. shopper, according to the most recent figures published the Food Marketing Institute – there’s understandable justification for those boxes of cinnamon churro cereal and cases of lime-infused beer in the supermarket.

“Café con leche is a great product that we can bring to our stores that appeals to Hispanics in general,” says Jessica Melendez, McDonald’s Regional Marketing Manager for the New York Metro Region. “In test groups, we found that Latinos didn’t have a coffee option that appealed to them and we wanted to provide them something that gave them what they wanted.”

The café con leche product was introduced in Miami earlier this year and has been recently introduced to all stores in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The product itself is an espresso and steamed whole milk blend; essentially a latte and operationally produced in the same manner, explains Melendez, but with a recognizable name that evokes the Latino coffee drinking habit.

“In each of our test groups, none of the respondents understood what a latte was – but our Latino customers know what café con leche is and will purchase it based on that affinity,” says Melendez. As to whether McDonald’s may introduce pastelitos de guayaba or a pressed Cuban sandwich to accompany that cup of coffee, Melendez says it is unlikely given production difficulties (“and we try to give equal consideration to the taste preferences of all our customers,” explains Melendez), but for now, the café con leche “is something that I think can be embraced by all coffee drinkers.”

Does that mean that café con leche may become the new latte? “Maybe,” says Felipe Korzenny, director of the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University.

“Generally, as the U.S. Latino population increases in size, more and more non-Hispanics have friends, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers who are Latino, we’ll see an increase in their influence on general product appeal and choices,” says Korzenny. “That white bread has been practically replaced by tortillas and ketchup has been replaced by salsa are important indications of what is happening in the U.S. culture.”

And even though products may differ in appeal to various groups of Latinos – for example, Nestle’s Abuelita Chocolate is available in the traditional disc to be melted in milk over the stove or in a granulated version you can microwave for more acculturated customers who demand higher levels of convenience – Latinos can expect to see many more Latin flavored items in the marketplace, says Korzenny.

“Food has been and always will be a way to convey culture,” remarks Palacios. “And while I think that we’ll see more Latin foods or varietals to fit into the daily practices and rituals of Hispanics, I think it’s safe to say that going forward, American flavor profiles will accommodate and reflect growing Hispanic influence.”

Click through to see some of the most successful Latin-themed products to have hit the market over the past few years.

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