Alyssa Hangartner
Alyssa is a Consumer Insights Analyst - Flavor and Ingredient Trends at Mintel. She combines product development experience and Mintel's extensive consumer research to provide realistic and innovative insights on a category level.

Latin cuisine is perceived by consumers as exciting, flavorful and adventurous but lags in terms of health and wellness. Retail brands and foodservice operators have an opportunity to renew Latin cuisine perceptions by highlighting the lighter, healthier side of Latin cuisine. Plant-based ingredients and vegetarian-friendly innovation continue to grow in both packaged foods and on foodservice menus. Strengthening ties between whole and plant-based foods used in Latin cuisines and their nutritional benefits can build a foundation to change Latin cuisine perceptions moving forward.

Latin cuisines both popular and poised for growth

The majority of US consumers eat Latin cuisine, but just a third of all consumers are steadfast in their consumption, according to upcoming Mintel research on Latin cuisine flavors. There are two concurrent paths to growth for brands: increase consumption frequency and diversify the cuisines, ingredients and flavors available. Among less-engaged consumers, reluctance to more frequent enjoyment may be hindered by a less-than-healthy reputation, low comfort level cooking at home and limited experience with the full range of cuisines, which are opportunities for both retail brands and foodservice operators alike.

Consumers struggle to see the healthy side, for now

Latin cuisines have strong ties to variety, excitement and affordability, but fall short in perceptions of health. A good step to begin to change these perceptions is to position Latin (or Latin-inspired) foods to align with contemporary health trends: nutrient density and plant-based options. Many authentic Latin cuisines can be both of these: featuring fruits, vegetables, grains and beans. This can accelerate the mainstreaming of many Latin cuisines and help consumers put these foods in the consideration set more frequently. Foodservice operators can start: according to Mintel research on healthy dining trends, nearly two-thirds of US diners are interested in plant-based menu options, indicating that a consumer shift from interest to expectation is likely going forward, especially among Gen Z and Millennial consumers. Highlighting plant-based ingredients can lighten up traditionally indulgent meals and keep better-for-you options feel exciting.

Elevated, healthy ingredients raise the bar on excitement for Millennials

Source: Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill

Millennials and Gen Z are more likely than their older counterparts to pick up on the healthy side of Latin cuisine and also describe Latin flavors as exciting and premium. This suggests that more than just flavors influence their Latin cuisine experiences. Fresh, premium ingredients that deliver authenticity and adventure resonate with these consumers. Foodservice operators have been elevating Latin ingredients and flavors featured on menus with varietals that add complexity and nuance that has likely contributed to these elevated perceptions. Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill offers a primarily plant-based bowl inspired by Mexican street food including a vegetarian-friendly option collaborating authentic flavors with healthy dining trends.

Snacks with health halos deliver excitement with Latin flavor profiles

Barnana Organic Ridged Plantain Chips with Spicy Mango Salsa

Latin cuisines overall have less-established connections to health, but brands in the snack aisle may be working to change these perceptions. The limited cost commitment of snacks makes them a great place to allow consumers to experiment with new flavors and ingredients found in Latin cuisine, according to Mintel research on regional and international flavors and ingredients. Latin flavors and ingredients are ripe for brand exploration, especially if they can reinforce a relationship between enjoyment and better-for-you (BFY) snacking. Snack brands may already be finding some traction in this; among consumers who typically consume Latin flavors in snacks, there are clear connections not only to excitement but also to health with more than two in five. Brands are addressing this from two angles, creating excitement through unique Latin seasoning flavor profiles and formulating featured snack substrates with BFY nods like plantains, 100% avocado oil, or grain-free foundations.

What we think

Some Latin cuisines and foods may come saddled with a less-than-healthy reputation, but brands can work to alter that perception by strengthening ties between whole and plant-based foods used in Latin cuisines and their nutritional benefits. The first step to begin changing these perceptions is to position Latin-inspired foods to align with forward-looking health trends. Many authentic Latin cuisines can be both plant-based and nutrient-dense featuring fruits, vegetables, grains and beans. In addition, thoughtfully crafted preparation styles and utilizing traditional ingredients will curate a premium and authentic experience. Positioning future innovation at the crossroads of authenticity and health will deliver on the adventure consumers are looking for, without sacrifice.