Latin flavor fever

This summer I spent some time in South Beach enjoying helado (ice cream) from a street vendor and sipping Cuban coffee (loaded with cream and sugar) in nearby Little Havana. In my hometown Chicago, I frequented bodegas for authentic Hispanic cheeses. I discovered that the Mexican produce market a few blocks away stocks a variety of yogurts and cultured dairy beverages in flavors not found at my mainstream grocer. This, I tell you, is investigative reporting at its finest. I highly recommend each and every dairy processor to explore the Hispanic marketplace, hands-on, to discover the many opportunities to formulate dairy foods that appeal to this burgeoning U.S. population.

Did you know that the Hispanic population, currently the largest U.S. minority group with 44.3 million individuals, is expected to occupy 15.5% of the total U.S. population by 2010? Hispanic shoppers spend nearly 25% more than other groups on food consumed at home, due largely to the importance of family mealtime and large family units, creating greater demand in the marketplace. And dairy foods-all of them-are a staple in these households.

Not only is the growing Hispanic population eager for authentic cuisine, the non-Hispanic population is hungry for something different. This will continue heating up the Hispanic food and beverage market, driving sales from almost $5.7 billion in 2006 to nearly $8.4 billion in 2011, according to Hispanic Foods and Beverages in the U.S., a new report from market research publisher Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md.

Packaged Facts projects that five Hispanic food and beverage categories will experience double-digit growth during the 2007-2011 forecast period: Entrees/Hand-Held Items, Fruits/Vegetables, Meat, Milk/Milk-Style Beverages, and Yogurt/Cultured Dairy Drinks. That’s right: two of the five category drivers are dairy foods.

“The yearning to experiment with all foods Hispanic has practically become a Latin fever in the United States,” says Tatjana Meerman, the publisher of Packaged Facts. “To catch this wave, food processors and chefs alike have to make a serious effort and investment to acquire the right ingredients. The good news is that Latin flavors are becoming more and more accessible and affordable.

“Having long ago discovered the nation’s enormous appetite for Hispanic cuisine, food manufacturers are infusing a growing number of American staples with Hispanic flavors,” says Meerman. “Food and beverage companies have found that Hispanic-inspired foods not only resonate with Hispanics, but they also make a splash with non-Hispanic consumers ever on the prowl for new flavors.”

In most food and beverage categories, flavor preferences differ greatly among Hispanics based on country of origin. This factoid, however, does not hold true with dairy foods. In general, all Hispanic consumers love dairy foods, and the same flavors, forms and varieties. They just are not readily available outside of U.S. metro areas with a large Hispanic population.

Some American processors are trying to change this. For example, Pierre’s French Ice Cream, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio, has experienced great success with its pineapple, coconut and margarita flavors of frozen desserts. In fact, these flavors are just as popular among mainstream shoppers as Hispanic consumers. Now the company is launching its Hola Fruta sherbets nationally in flavors such as margarita and piña colada, expecting the products to reach across ethnic lines.

Traditionally, Hispanic frozen desserts were made locally and distributed via push carts or through local bodegas. Now the famous Goya brand, which can be found in almost all food categories except dairy, makes its way into the freezer as a result of a co-branding deal between Unilever Ice Cream, Green Bay, Wis., and Goya Foods, Inc, Secaucus, N.J. It is likely just a matter of time before other Goya-branded dairy products enter the marketplace.

In yogurt, mainstream dairy processor Johanna Foods, Inc., Flemington, N.Y., has had great success with its Latino-branded La Yogurt Sabor Latino yogurt line. The company recently added Dulce De Leche and Horchata flavors to its line up.

Want to catch the Latin fever? A great place to start is when you are in Chicago for Worldwide Food Expo. If you want to visit some traditional Hispanic neighborhood grocers, visit for my recommendations.