What we eat

Tortilla chips trump potato chips as Hispanic foods become mainstream

 

Associated Press

Salsa overtaking ketchup as America’s No. 1 condiment was just the start.

These days, tortillas outsell burger and hot dog buns; sales of tortilla chips trump potato chips; and tacos and burritos have become so ubiquitously “American,” most people don’t even consider them ethnic.

Welcome to the taste of American food in 2013.

This is a rewrite of the American menu at the macro level, an evolution of whole patterns of how people eat. The difference this time? The biggest culinary voting bloc is Hispanic.

“When you think about pizza and spaghetti, it’s the same thing,” says Jim Kabbani, CEO of the Tortilla Industry Association. “People consider them American, not ethnic. It’s the same with tortillas.”

With Hispanics making up more than a quarter of the U.S. population today — and growing fast — experts say this change is dramatically flavoring the American culinary experience. Hispanic foods and beverages were an $8 billion market in the last year, according to Packaged Facts, a research firm. By 2017, that may reach $11 billion.

From queso fresco to chorizo, traditional Hispanic foods are making their way into our everyday diet, particularly among the millennials — those born between the early ’80s and the turn of the century.

Take tequila. In 2006, nearly 107 million of liters of tequila were exported to the U.S., a 23 percent increase over 2005, according to Judith Meza, representative of the Tequila Regulatory Council. Tequila entered the top 10 of liquors in the world five years ago, she said.

Even our choice of side dishes is feeling the influence. In general, Americans are eating fewer side dishes, except white rice, a staple of Hispanic cuisines, says Darren Seifer, a food and beverage analyst for The NPD Group, a marketing organization.

Americans ate rice as a side dish an average of 24 times in 2013, up from 20 servings in 2003, according to NPD’s National Eating Trend.

Meanwhile, tortilla dollar sales increased at a faster pace in supermarket sales than potato chips this year (3.7 percent vs. 2.2 percent over a 52-week period), according to InfoScan Reviews, a retail tracking service.

Though potato chips continue to be the top-selling salted snack in terms of pounds sold, “the growth of tortilla chips is a little bit more robust than the growth of potato chips,” says Tom Dempsey, CEO of the Snack Food Association.

As testament to their popularity, the Tortilla Industry Association estimates that Americans consumed approximately 85 billion tortillas in 2000. And that’s just tortillas straight up. It doesn’t include chips.

Parents are picking healthier options to wrap their child’s lunch every day, said Kabbani.

A healthier option many Americans are choosing is the tomato-based salsa, which beat ketchup sales 2-1, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm.

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