Trends impacting the Latin American food industry.

While Latin American consumers gravitate towards better quality foods, Latin cuisine is trending internationally.

Latin American cuisine is as varied as the countries and cultures that make up the region. With its rich culinary heritage spanning centuries, Latin American cuisine–along with its chefs, restaurants, and businesses–has majorly influenced the global food scene for decades.

Today, two trends have the potential to transform the region in significant ways: the consumer demand for quality foods and the globalization of Latin cuisines.

The demand for better quality

Consumers worldwide are gravitating to more premium products, and Latin Americans are following this trend by demanding better quality ingredients and functional foods. A recent brand survey found that 80 percent of respondents were interested in functional snacks–or snacks that serve a physical, emotional, or wellness need like a bar that improves brain functioning.

Similar to other regions, health consciousness has also been on the rise among consumers in Latin American countries since the pandemic. This year, three out of five grocery store consumers planned to focus more on nutrition and healthier food options.

And while it would be wise for companies in the food industry to explore products like functional foods, consumers aren’t eager to spend more on healthier items. Only consumers aged 18 to 44 would pay more for healthier foods–and they are only willing to pay more for high-protein snacks or products with all-natural ingredients.

Growing label literacy and knowledge about food processes will also impact consumer choices, even when selecting traditionally healthier foods. For example, 34 percent of consumers in Chile said they would eat more dairy-free and plant-based foods if they were less processed.

Latin American cuisines go global

Another major trend affecting the Latin American food industry is happening beyond the region. Currently, Latin American cuisine, ingredients, and flavors are growing in popularity around the world, particularly in the United States.

U.S. Millennial and Gen Z consumers are flocking to Latin American comfort foods. Today, dishes like Birria are among one of the ten fastest-growing menu items in the country.

Latin-inspired beverages are also making waves. Ranch water, a tequila-based cocktail, sat at the top of the fastest-growing menu items last year. Along with mezcal, agave-based spirits have seen tremendous growth in the United States. So much so, that tequila surpassed whiskey to become the country’s second-highest-selling spirit after vodka, which it’s forecasted to overtake.

The growing demand for Latin American ingredients and flavors presents a major opportunity for the region’s food industry. For example, experts expect a strong international demand for the Peruvian aji amarillo pepper, which could benefit Peru’s farmers. Similarly, tequila and mezcal can only be produced in Mexico, and tequila’s rise in popularity resulted in $3.6 billion in exports last year–Mexico’s highest-grossing year for tequila sales.

While these two trends represent the current behaviors and attitudes of consumers, factors such as inflation continue to be the most pressing trends impacting the Latin American food industry and customers. The post-pandemic economy presents challenges for the industry, but entrepreneurs can find possibilities and opportunities in these, and other, emerging trends.

Danilo Diazgranados is an independent investor in the global food and wine, financial services, real estate, and the hospitality sectors.