Adios, tacos. Vaya con dios, taquitos. For convenience-store retailers hoping to appeal to customers through the vibrant, spicy flavors of Hispanic snacks, there’s an incredible range of options to explore.
Hispanic snacks—particularly those with a twist—are a big opportunity. Sixty-three percent of millennials find these types of snacks craveworthy, according to a recent Smucker’s Trend Briefing in collaboration with CSP sister company Technomic. And the menu items have reached beyond millennials and those who have grown up with the food: Fifty-six percent of Asian consumers and 38% of Caucasians find Hispanic snacks appealing.
This hunger for new and novel Hispanic offerings is being tapped into by concepts such as La Bodega, an upscale c-store in downtown Chicago. The shop was created by restaurant operator DineAmic Group as a storefront concept for its Mexican restaurant Barrio, located next door. La Bodega’s specialty is made-to-order churros with gourmet and fun flavors. Varieties include red velvet with cream-cheese icing and Nutella sprinkled with hazelnuts. For the young at heart, there’s a churro studded with Fruity Pebbles cereal. The churros cost $3.50 each and can be prepared in less than five minutes. The La Bodega staff offers customers samples of soft-serve ice cream while they wait. The store also sells coffee and espresso beverages and breakfast tacos.
In Miami, Mendez Fuel aims to bring in all types of consumers with its empanadas, along with acai bowls with South American fruit and ingredients, such as raw cacao, pitaya, coconut and pineapple. Although the cuisine is a nod to Miami’s Central and South American residents, it’s also a way to differentiate the c-store chain.
“It’s not only a Hispanic client, but a family client,” says owner Michael Mendez, who founded the five-store chain in 2010. He often sees multiple generations of the same family visiting the store together, brought together by the food.
Hispanic snacks are an opportunity not just to establish repeat customers but also shore up sales between dayparts. Only three in 10 consumers say they would order regional Hispanic snacks for breakfast, but interest picks up throughout the day, according to the Technomic-Smucker’s report. Hispanic snacks are a popular choice for evening and late-night nibbles: Sixty-five percent of millennials and 51% of Gen Zers would consider the cuisine during late-night hours.
Mendez Fuel sells bowls for $9.99 and empanadas for $3.69, which Mendez says are fairly high rings. But he says his crew still can’t make them fast enough: “From the morning to the moment we close, we’re getting bowl orders.”
For Mendez, finding the next swoonworthy Hispanic snack is as simple as scrolling on Instagram. To stay up on health and snack trends, he follows highly innovative West Coast chains. His favorite Los Angeles concepts to follow for inspiration include Thrive Market, Carrera Cafe and Alfred Coffee & Alfred Tea Room. That’s where he finds buzzed-about ingredients such as spirulina, an edible blue-green algae that adds a green hue to Mendez’s The Hulk Bowl, which contains matcha, banana, pineapple, spinach, ginger, almond butter and cinnamon.
That said, Mendez credits the authenticity of the c-store’s menu to his employees from Nicaragua, Peru, El Salvador and Argentina, who put their own home twists on the menu.
“My employees know the customers better than I do,” he says. “To me, the employees are the key to your foodservice and what customers want. I’d be foolish not to listen.”
About every quarter, Mendez asks staff what’s working and what’s not working with the menu and how to make it better.
While Mendez’s empanadas and acai bowls have struck a chord with consumers, a few other Hispanic menu items could have the momentum for cult-fan status.
Menu mentions of chilaquiles are up 9.4% year over year on retail and restaurant menus, according to the Technomic-Smucker’s report. The dish consists of corn tortillas fried with salsa or mole sauce and topped with cheese, onions, sour cream and eggs, making it prime for a build-your-own chilaquiles bar.
About half of consumers are interested in Salvadoran pupusas—thick corn tortillas filled with a savory filling—and Venezuelan arepas, corn-based dough sandwiches filled with meat, veggies, cheese and sauce, the report says. Both pupusas and arepas offer customers familiar ingredients in a new, mobile and potentially exciting package.
To make unfamiliar items more accessible, Mendez offers customers samples early and often. “The regulars always want to try the new stuff,” he says.
Mendez is happy his menu is ahead of the curve, and he has a new stand-alone store with a large kitchen, where he can develop more hot food and Hispanic offerings. But he knows he can’t stand still for long: “I’ll have to hop back on Instagram to find out what’s next.”
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