Sweet Snacks of the Caribbean

There is an increasing demand for variety in snacks from different cultures at many Hispanic bakeries.
 
At El Zócalo Supermarket in Haines City, Florida, it is increasingly common for customers to enjoy a single slice of pan de fiesta while they sit and enjoy a pastry with their morning or afternoon coffee. One type of pan de fiesta offered by this innovative bakery is made with milk, corn starch, sugar and strawberry flavor.

Other popular sweet snacks at El Zócalo are pastel helado, a coffee-flavored pastry, and quesitos, which are twisted pastries filled with guava or cheese in the middle.

A few years ago, bakery sales at El Zócalo were once driven by demand from customers of Mexican heritage, but now that is changing, according to El Zócalo owner Juan Tejada says. Over the past three years, Puerto Rican customers have become their fastest growing segment of customers. He estimates there current mix of customers range from those of Mexican origin (60 percent), Caribbean (25 percent, mostly Puerto Rican and some Cuban) and others from South America.

All this translates into a surge in demand for sweet snacks from different cultures. “People want to see more variety,” Tejada says.

Alex Tortilleria Restaurant and Bakery, which opened in Orlando in 2001, specializes in authentic sweet breads including orejas and piedras. Chocoflan is another top seller, and they offer this product in single slices inside clear clamshell containers for convenience.

Alex Honorato, who helps run the bakery for his family-owned business, explains that they are doing more parfaits and pastries to appeal to grab-and-go shoppers. One top seller is what they call a borracho, a parfait that is filled with pieces of cake, cream and chocolate shavings with a cherry on top.

In similar fashion, pastries now represent 25 percent of all bakery sales at El Panque y la Rosca Bakery in Bartow, Florida, which has doubled its overall bakery sales in the past year.

They specialize in flavorful turnover pastries that are filled with an increasingly wide variety of fillings. For example, guava with cheese now ranks among their top-three selling turnovers, as well as apple and coconut. The bakery also offers a wide mix of fillings for their traditional empanadas, including strawberry, pumpkin and pineapple.

Other popular sweet snacks at El Panque y la Rosca are margarita cookies with a pecan on top and cajeta-filled besos.

Joey Quintana, who runs Acapulco Tropical with her sister, Ana, in Bradenton, Florida, points out that migration by Hispanics into central Florida has grown rapidly in the past decade. When her family’s business opened in 2005, 80 percent of customers originally came from Mexico. Today, half of all their customers trace their heritages to places such as Puerto Rico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil and Venezuela.

The current bakery menu features more than 60 items on a daily basis, all prepared fresh that day, and includes Cuban sandwiches and quesitos, a cheese-filled pastry popular in Puerto Rico.

Influential snacking trends

It’s important to know the most influential food trends in America because it gives bakeries insight into what direction sales might be heading, allowing bakery owners to prepare for emerging trends with new products geared for the shifts in consumption patterns.

Although consumers still hold to three main meals a day, there is a shift in what consumers eat at these meals, according to NPD Group research.  The number of dishes and ingredients used to prepare main meals continues to decline as more consumers rely on “healthy” portable snack foods to be a part of their breakfast, lunch, and dinners.  As the sizes of meals shrink and people continue to incorporate more traditional “snack” foods into main meal menus, the perception is they are grazing or snacking more. These mini-meals, however, are not adding new or additional occasions to the day and consumers continue to eat three main meals each day.

Americans also continue to love everything from snack cakes and muffins to donuts and other baked treats, and most prefer the regular versions over low- or fat-free types, according to a recent Packaged Facts report on sweet baked goods in the US.

The indulgence factor still drives the demand for sweet goods, even among those who place a high emphasis on health and wellness. Packaged Facts reported that US consumers spent $20 billion on these products last year, and dollar sales grew by a compound annual growth rate of more than 4 percent since 2010.

“Eating healthy is important to a growing number of consumers, but so is treating yourself to indulgences, albeit in moderation,” said Eric Richard, education coordinator, International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association.

Meanwhile, the specialty food industry continues to draw new consumers, particularly millennials. Nearly six in 10 consumers surveyed purchased a specialty food or beverage in the past six months, up from 47 percent in 2015, according to new consumer research from the Specialty Food Association and Mintel.

“Discovering specialty food has become a core part of the younger consumer’s daily shopping routine,” said Phil Kafarakis, president of the Specialty Food Association. “They are moving away from the staples that they grew up with and embracing the new tastes and flavors of specialty food.”

Millennials, 78 percent of whom buy specialty food, tend to shop for such products across a wide range of categories and retailers. These consumers buy specialty foods for everyday meals or snacking, as treats or gifts, for special occasions or to share at the office.

Fifty-four percent of adults said they always try to eat healthy foods and maintain a balanced diet, according to Packaged Facts. However, nearly 60 percent said they eat foods they like regardless of calories. Snacking has become the new way to eat for many, with two-thirds of adults admitting to between-meal snacks and more than 40 percent frequently eating sweets.

The online opportunity

It’s also important to witness an emerging trend that can influence how Hispanic bakeries can appeal to younger customers who are more comfortable with online shopping and want to actually buy sweet snacks on the Internet, possibly for pick-up at the bakery or for delivery to their homes.

US consumers are increasingly turning to the internet to stock up on ready-to-eat snacks, according to a new report from The NPD Group.  Although still relatively small, the online channel is one of the fastest growing channels for consumer reported purchases of ready-to-eat snacks.