The Olé Factor

19/09/2016 - 13:07
Mexican cuisine is tipped to be a winning formula for the foreseeable future for operators and a vital contributor to the casual dining scene. Sheila Eggleston reports.

Mexican cuisine continues to challenge other popular cuisines, with many seeing high street chains such as Wahaca, Chilango and Chiquito and their authentic, freshly prepared dishes, influencing the growth in demand.

Mark Irish, head of food development at food distributor Brakes, says that younger customers are particularly won over by it. “The grazing/sharing element of Mexican cuisine from operators like Wahaca appeals to the 25-35 age group,” he explains. “Fast casual outlets like Chilango offer the Mexican experience very much as a take-out option with a fresh, flavoursome twist.

“Tacos have had a resurgence and dishes like taquitos, tostadas, quesadillas, burritos and enchiladas feature heavily in many chains. Pushing the heat button is something consumers also want, so dishes with authentic hot chillies like arbol, chipotle, habenero and piquin are growing in popularity.”

David King, customer marketing executive at Bidvest Foodservice, concurs with this, and says that recent reports reveal that spicy food on menus has grown by 37.3% since 2014, and this taps into the Mexican trend with popular native ingredients such as jalapeños and chipotle.

Recently Bidvest introduced Theo’s street-style chicken range into its portfolio, which works well in tortillas and tacos. “Chicken is the most popular protein among diners as 52% eat it out of home once a week, and its versatility and status as a lean meat means the ‘chickenisation’ trend is set to stay,” says King.

“Installing a fire pit in kitchens may be a little extreme, so in response to the barbecued food trend we’ve also developed a premium range of prepared pulled meat including fiery hot and sweet beef, and beef chilli,” he adds.

Also new are Pidy UK’s Mexican chilli spicy pastry cups that capitalise on interest in Mexican food, which chef and business development manager, Paul Eason, also attributes to its growth in high street chains. These cups, he says, can be used as alternative carriers to tacos for fillings such as chilli beef and cheese or simply guacamole.

Eimear Owens, country sales manager for Santa Maria Foodservice, believes more emphasis on its authenticity, fresh ingredients and spice combinations is the next phase for Mexican cuisine. Her recommendations include putting a twist on breakfast eggs Benedict by topping muffins with refried beans, poached egg, salsa and hollandaise sauce, plus a sprinkle of its smoked paprika.

According to Mark Lyddy, head of foodservice at Tilda, burritos offer cost-effective all-day opportunities for operators. “Basmati rice is a ‘calorie bargain’ because a half cup cooked serving is just over 100 calories, it is healthier than long grain and keeps you fuller for longer, which is great for busy consumers looking for something to grab and go,” he adds. “Rice is also least likely to cause allergies, so teamed with a gluten-free wrap burritos can also cater for coeliacs.”

Burritos, fajitas and enchiladas are still favourites, states Roy Shortland, development chef for Uncle Ben’s at Mars Foodservice, with chicken, minced beef and pulled pork the most popular proteins, and guacamole, salsa, nachos and tacos good choices for vegetarians.

Its sauce range includes Mexican salsa and chilli con carne variants, and one of Shortland’s tips is to mix some of the latter with mayonnaise as a base for sausage chilli empanadas.

Ornua Ingredients UK marketing manager, Abigail Middleton, also advocates using ready-to-use sauces to enable caterers to cost-effectively extend menus. For hot cheesy nachos, for instance, she recommends pouring its hot jalapeño cheese sauce over tortilla chips topped with grated mozzarella, and flashed under a hot grill.

Meanwhile, as takeaways grow within the pub and restaurant sector, demand for more robust carriers shouldn’t be overlooked. Rachael Sawtell, marketing director at Planglow, points out that it is seeing growth in pot-to-go style concepts for rice-based dishes, skewers, salads and breakfast such as huevos rancheros to name a few, and, for hot Mexican dishes to go, it offers pots in two sizes as well as compostable tortilla packs.

Worldwide Mexican wave

The Food People’s Hot Food & Beverage Trends 2016-2017 predicts that Mexican cuisine will continue to capture the imagination of chefs worldwide via traditional fare or by adding a splash of Mexican inspiration to dishes, says Dave Edwards, head of sales at wrap specialist Mission Foodservice.

“Salsa verde, chilli con queso and chimichurri green sauce are ‘hot’ on the Mexican scene now, as are spices like chile powder – a blend of dried, powdered chilli, cumin and oregano, or chipotle, which is becoming more popular outside of Mexico,” he comments.

Consumers are also more interested in creating their own fillings for dishes such as burritos thus enabling operators to tap into the personalisation trend, he adds. His tips for operators are:

• Add a Mexican style dish to specials menus to test its popularity

• If it performs well, think about hosting a regular Mexican-themed evening or introducing some Mexican dishes on the main menu

• Promote Mexican offerings via table talkers, newsletters, via websites or through social media

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