Food Trends

Latin Flavors: 4 Key Trends for Operators in 2021

Mar 15, 2021

Latin Flavors:  4 Key Trends for Operators in 2021

Interest in Latin flavors has been building among consumers for decades. Mexican cuisine crossed over to the American mainstream years ago and its favorites can be found in almost any type of restaurant today.

Now dishes and flavors from other Latin countries like Peru, Argentina and Brazil are finding their way onto the menus of American restaurants, driven in part by the adventurous palates of Millennials and Gen X patrons, two of the largest and most important segments of the dining public.

Where is the demand for Latin flavors headed? And how can you capitalize on it?

What to look for in 2021

We’ve identified four key trends to help operators meet the growing appetite for Latin-inspired items moving forward. Whether your menu is filled with Latin dishes or just a few, matching these trends can help you attract new customers and keep your existing base coming back.

1. Latin-inspired bowls.
Bowls have been trending for years. With the growing popularity of Latin flavors, combining these two trends makes good sense. Redesigning dishes into distinct layers of ingredients creates attractive presentations that satisfy patrons and travel well for takeout and delivery.

Bowls have grown over the past four years by 20% and are now on 35.7% of all U.S. restaurant menus. Their growth is predicted to outperform 98% of all other foods, beverages, and ingredients over the next four years.1

Mentions of Mexican bowls increased 61.8%, breakfast bowls rose 21.5%, smoothie bowls grew 15.0% and beef bowls rose 5.0%. These bowls span dayparts and feature both sweet and savory flavors.2

QSR Mexican top foods are tacos and burritos; burrito bowls topped the list for Fast Casual.3

“Grains and protein serve as the base of most bowls, but vegetables, sauces and toppings are what make them special. Choose yours carefully to create one-of-a-kind flavors that customers crave,” says Simplot Corporate Executive Chef Michael Zeller. The ability to personalize food items (especially bowls) is very popular among Millennials and Gen Z patrons. Allowing them to “build their own” bowls can be a great draw. Some operators, however, may find it more efficient (faster prep and shorter lines) to create well-crafted bowls using their own recipes instead of letting customers customize their own.

On-trend products to consider
Simplot Good Grains™ Exotic Grains & Fire-Roasted Vegetable Blend
Simplot Harvest Fresh™ Avocados Slices, Dices and Halves

2. Plant-based Latin plates
With the rising focus on health-conscious eating, it’s not just vegans and vegetarians who are seeking out plant-based fare these days. Mainstream consumers are enjoying plant-based cuisine more than ever. Offering plant-based choices is a great way to broaden your customer base, helping you appeal to vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians (those increasing their intake of plant-based foods without eliminating meat), as well as environmentally-minded consumers.

Not sure this is for your operation? Consider this: In the U.S., plant-based menu items have grown over the past four years by 3299% and 118% over the last year. The growth rate is predicted to outperform 100% of all other food, beverage, and ingredients over the next four years.1

“Don’t let this trend pass you by,” advises Roberto Roman, Simplot Corporate Executive Chef. “You can make delicious plant-based dishes using things like roasted fruits and vegetables, and avocado products— and still give them the Latin flavors they love.”

Seasoned rice is great for plant-based menu items and is the most popular food/beverage item at Casual Dining Mexican restaurants. It’s included in almost 1/3 of all orders.3

And finally, consider offering options for plant-based meat analogs, like soy-based chorizo, as we have in this recipe for our All Day Torta of Eggs, Chorizo and Redskin Potatoes (pictured above).

On-trend products to consider
Simplot Good Grains™ Cilantro Lime Rice & Fire-Roasted Corn Fiesta
Simplot RoastWorks® Roasted Redskin Potatoes & Jalapeño Blend
Simplot Harvest Fresh™ Avocados Avocado Slices and Chunky Pulp
Simplot RoastWorks® Roasted Sweet Potatoes

3. Latin flavors at home
Meal kits are continuing to trend for 2021, even with signs that the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to slow. As customers have become accustomed to ordering takeout and delivery over the last year, it looks like off-premise dining will remain a well-used option even after dining rooms open. This calls for recipes and ingredients that travel well and reduce labor for already-lean kitchen staffs.

The top 10 most popular items according to Uber Eats 2020 Cravings Report included tacos and burritos, a clear indication that Latin flavors are on the minds of off-premise diners. On a related note, nearly half of consumers (43%) feel that restaurants should offer more family-sized meal bundles as a delivery option.4 Are you?

“You don’t need to be a Latin-style restaurant to have Latin items on your menu,” says Dianna Fricke, Simplot’s Director of Culinary and Corporate Executive Chef. “Give your customers what they are craving with innovative tacos and burritos that incorporate your pantry ingredients and stay true to your menu.”

On-trend products to consider
Simplot RoastWorks® Ready-to-Eat Flame-Roasted Pepper & Onion Blend
Simplot Conquest® Delivery+® Clear Coated Tin Roof Fries
Simplot RoastWorks® Flame-Roasted Corn & Black Bean Fiesta Blend
Simplot Harvest Fresh™ Avocados Western Guacamole 2oz Cups

4. Complementing fresh with frozen products
With the financial stress of recent months, it’s more important than ever to watch your costs while still providing high-quality food. Waste is an expensive problem in most commercial kitchens. On average, 40% of fresh produce ends up in the trash after peeling, seeding and shucking.5 Once you factor in labor and trim loss, frozen products are often less expensive, pound for pound.

It’s no wonder frozen foods were the #1 item operators were stocking up on in June 2020 to take advantage of their longer shelf life and avoid food waste.6

“Consider substituting labor-intensive fresh items with high quality, prepared products,” says Michael Thrash, Corporate Executive Chef at Simplot. “Pre-roasted vegetables, avocado pulp, guacamole and avocado dices are all great choices, especially with the price volatility of whole avocado fruit.”

And don’t forget to menu fries—another item from Uber’s 2020 Cravings Report. In fact, fry servings at delivery are up +81% versus 2018. Better yet, they’re extremely profitable with low cost and high margins for any type of operator.7

On-trend products to consider
Simplot SIDEWINDERS™ Fries Conquest® brand batter Original Cut Clear Coated SIDEWINDERS™ Fries
Simplot RoastWorks® Ready-to-Eat Flame-Roasted Fuji Apples
Simplot RoastWorks® Flame-Roasted Corn & Jalapeño Blend

Latin flavors mean business

The popularity of Latin-inspired flavors shows no signs of diminishing in 2021. Specific recipes and presentations will certainly change over time, but this cuisine's influence is here to stay. With the right products, you can thrill your customers with the Latin flavors they crave, with far less labor and waste.


1 Datassential MenuTrends™, 2020
2 Technomic, Ignite, Q3 2019 - Q3 2020
3 The NPD Group/CREST®, SON’20
4 Technomic, Inc., Takeout & Off-Premise Consumer Trend Report, 2018
6 Datassential, June 2020
7 The NPD Group/CREST®, April 2020