Consumer interest in authentic ethnic foods, snacking and transparency has positioned regional Hispanic snacks for rapid growth on menus, according to a new Technomic report.

“We have noticed a big rise in orders of mini breads for parties or gatherings,” says Gabriella Blanco, whose father, Benjamin, and his brother, Jesus, run Panadería La Colmena #2 in Sun Valley, California.

Panadería Maria in Fontana, California, makes signature specialties that are not available anywhere else in the area. One example is called cacahuates, which are peanut-shaped cookies filled with a mixture of margarine and sugar in the middle.

Denis Oratowski, president of Sonora Bakery in Los Angeles, says that his bakery’s customers increasingly are looking for convenience foods that are available in takeout packaging.

“We are downsizing portion sizes and offering clamshells of different cookies and desserts, flans and cheesecakes,” he says. “We have a lot of to-go packages and we have a large lunch menu. We also make fresh tamales.”

On the sandwich menu of Tropicana Bakery & Cuban Café in Downey, California, the bakery café serves a grilled flank steak sandwich on whole wheat bread with spinach leaves and avocado.

Another great example of this fusion approach involves traditional Napoleans, a classic French dessert that Tropicana makes with several twists. They make a Cuban version of Napoleon with vanilla custard and lemon meringue, in addition to another version of this dessert with tiramisu.

“It’s important to introduce different variations of flavors,” Melvyn Madrazo Jr. says. “You have a great product, but people get bored.”

Another traditional item with a twist on the menu is the spinach artichoke potato ball. “They sell like hot cakes,” he says. “People like these nuances. People are really willing to pay for them now, as long as it’s quality and original.”

One perfect example is the Tropicana Bowl, a menu item at the bakery café that is made with plantains, black beans, shredded spinach, diced avocados and whole grain rice.

Having fresh California-grown strawberries and avocados available to them year-round enables Tropicana Bakery to present a new approach to foodservice offerings.

“We’ve incorporated traditional Cuban foods with more California ingredients and non-traditional presentation,” Madrazo says.

According to the Techonmic report, “as diners increasingly demand to know the influences behind the foods they’re eating and request more varied Latin foods and flavors, regional Hispanic snacks will further gain ground at restaurants.”

Nearly half of consumers find regional Hispanic snacks appealing, the study found, and 48% said they would like to see more of these offerings on restaurants menus. Key demographics showing interest in Hispanic snacks are millennials (63%) and Westerners (51%).

Time of day contributes greatly to consumer interest in regional Hispanic snacks, the companies said. Only 3 in 10 said they would order regional Hispanic snacks in the morning, but interest gradually increases throughout the day, peaking during the evening. Fifty-seven per cent of consumers would consider eating these snacks during the afternoon, while 60% said the same for the evening. The number dips to 44% when consumers consider late-night snacking.

“While it’s not staggering that millennials are more likely than any other generation to consider ordering these types of snacks during all times of the day, there are some interesting demographic variances between Gen Zers and Gen Xers,” the report said.

Gen Z consumers (those born between 1993 and 1999) are more likely to find regional Hispanic snacks appealing during the morning and late-night hours, while Gen X consumers (born between 1966 and 1976) prefer to eat these types of snacks during the afternoon and evening. Also, Gen Xers (48%) are more likely than Gen Zers (37%) to consider swapping in a regional Hispanic snack as a meal replacement.

Certain regional Hispanic snacks are more appealing to consumers than others and knowing which are most likely to succeed “is essential for operators looking to add these types of items to menus,” the report said. Above all else, familiarity seems to be a common thread.

The most appealing regional Hispanic snacks are ones that already have high penetration on restaurant menus, such as tacos.

“Thirty percent of Top 500 operators overall have tacos on their menus,” the report said. “Therefore, consumers likely find tacos to be a familiar — and thus appealing — format to try a regional Hispanic snack, even if it contains unfamiliar ingredients.”

However, a number of more exotic regional offerings are garnering interest based on their descriptors. Half of consumers said they find Venezuelan arepas and Salvadoran pupusas enticing. Arepas are corn-based dough sandwiches often filled with meat, vegetables, cheese and sauce, and pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with a savory filling.

“Because both arepas and pupusas have ingredients that most American consumers are familiar with, operators should consider menuing these items with more detailed descriptions so they don’t seem so foreign to diners,” the report said.