Why Mexican food is the trend to watch in 2024

23 February 2024, 07:00 AM
  • Flavour-packed and health-friendly, Mexican food is coming up trumps on the British food scene. Speciality Food investigates what to stock and how to sell the trend
Why Mexican food is the trend to watch in 2024

Mexican cuisine has been bubbling under the radar for years in the UK. With numerous trend-watchers citing its fiesta of flavours as a must-stock for 2024, could this be the year this internationally beloved cuisine gets its time in the spotlight in the UK? 

“Mexican food is one of only four cuisines that have been declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity from UNESCO,” Eduardo Gomez, sales director at Mexgrocer, an importer and distributor of authentic Mexican food, tells Speciality Food

Traditional Mexican food, UNESCO says, is founded on corn, beans and chilli, as well as unique farming methods, cooking processes and utensils, like grinding stones and stone mortars. The country is also home to native ingredients, such as varieties of tomatoes, squashes, avocados, cocoa and vanilla, that “augment the basic staples”. 

What’s more, Mexico is one of the top five most visited countries in the world, attracting people from all over the planet, “and once you’ve tried the real, authentic food, there is no way back,” Eduardo says.

Why is the trend rising?

Why is there a sudden buzz around all things Mexican? According to Bidfood, although many Brits are familiar with Mexican cuisine in its TexMex form – with nachos and burritos featuring on many a menu – it’s the authentic experience that consumers in the UK are now after. 

“Mexican cuisine has a much greater breadth and depth of food culture to discover than the handful of recipes we are most familiar with,” the wholesaler says.

Indeed, 44% of Brits have already tried Mexican food, says Bidfood, and the cuisine has been around in the UK for decades. “Café Pacifico claims to have been first on the scene in London, having opened in 1982,” says Heather Morris of SH Foodie, which supports food and drink brands with development. “In my own Bristol neighbourhood, Casa Mexicana (opened in 1986) has been serving up Mexican favourites from the same address ever since.” 

Another reason for the change in heart is the sheer adaptability of Mexican cuisine. With varied food options and spice levels, this cuisine can shift to suit most food preferences, including both meat and non-meat eaters, and young and old alike. “It’s a bit more exciting, but so accessible,” Heather says.

Eduardo adds that the growth of the Mexican restaurant scene in the UK has also been instrumental. Restaurants and bars like KOL, Hacha, Doña and Cavita have appeared in London, for example. This is “creating brand awareness and better reputation of Mexican food in the UK,” he says.

The health glow of Mexican food

The surge in popularity of authentic Mexican food can also be attributed to consumers’ changing preferences. Many more shoppers today are looking to buy products that help them make healthy, inexpensive and easy to prepare meals at home. “[Mexican food] just happens to fit in with the latest health and wellness trends, like aiming to have more fresh vegetables, beans and fruit in our diet and having less processed/ultra-processed foods,” Heather says. 

“Ancient grains are becoming more popular, and Mexican food is rich with corn and amaranth,” she adds. Corn, or maize, is a key ingredient in Mexican cuisine, being used not only in tortillas, but also in soups, stews, breads, cakes and snacks.

The top Mexican foods to stock

Retailers should be quick to jump on the Mexican bandwagon, as there are plenty of opportunities to explore. 

Start by getting the basics right. For Mexgrocer, best-sellers right now include speciality dried chillies, like chipotle and ancho, as well as corn soft tortillas, which also happen to be gluten free, and green and red salsas.

For those who are ready to look beyond familiar formats, Mexican food offers countless options. “As well as the well-known fajitas, enchiladas, quesadillas and chilli con carne, newer recipes making headway include birria, a spicy smoky hearty stew; tamales, a tasty street food made from corn dough with a multitude of fillings and steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf; and corn elotes (corn cobs smothered in creamy/spicy sauce with chilli and Cotija cheese,” Heather says.

Even a taco or burrito can be dressed up with authentic mole sauce and freshly made salsa or a new filling, like tacos al pastor, made with marinated pork, which is a national dish in Mexico.

Authentic Mexican dishes are often made with fresh ingredients, including many that fine food shops will already stock – from chicken, fish and seafood to pinto beans, coriander, chilli and lime.

There is also an opportunity in authentic Mexican desserts. Churros, which can be sold as a mix, are likely the best known, but there are many more to explore, from arroz con leche, a rice pudding with cinnamon, to camote enmielado, a unique blend of sweet and savoury, with sweet potato and cinnamon mixing with salsa and guacamole. There are also a number of sweet staples retailers can stock, such as agave syrup and Mexican vanilla extract. 

Mexican drinks to stock

On the drinks front, tequila and mezcal, spirits that are made from the country’s agave plant, have seen a spike in popularity in the UK – and globally. Now, the market is favouring premium products: by 2026, drinks analysts at IWSR say super-premium-plus tequilas are forecast to account for 40% of the category’s global volume, up from 13% as recently as 2016.

Eduardo has long been banging the drum for authentic tequila and mezcal in Britain, having founded the first ever Tequila and Mezcal Fest in the UK, which is now the largest festival of Mexican spirits in Europe.

“Mexican alcoholic drinks are ever increasing in popularity,” Heather says. “Premium tequila and mezcal sales continue to grow as consumers become more aware of their quality. The rise in cocktail culture has also added to the sales increase, with the Margarita being the most popular according to Google.” There are numerous brands fitting into this trend, such as El Rayo Tequila, Tequila Enemigo, Mirror Margarita and more.

“Interest in Mexican alcoholic drinks is extending to others, including sotol, which unlike tequila and mezcal is made from the sotol plant from the Chihuahuan desert,” Heather adds. Examples that are available in the UK include La Higuera Wheeleri Sotol and Nocheluna Sotol.

Mexican soft drinks also pose an interesting stocking idea for retailers who want to promote the ‘authentic Mexican experience’. “Tepache, a delicious, refreshing drink which is made from fermented pineapple peels is small but growing, and I forecast as one to watch,” Heather says. “It fits in so well with the interest in all things fermented. 

“Hibiscus flavoured drinks are another one to watch; it’s unique sweet but earthy taste combines so well with many fruits, bringing another dimension to sodas,” she says. From mixers, like Belvoir Farm’s Floral Fizz Botanical Mixer to health-focused drinks like Pomegranate & Hibiscus Kefir Water from Agua de Madre or simple Hibiscus Lemonade from Sipp’d, hibiscus drinks are already hitting the UK market.

How to sell the Mexican trend in-store

If Mexican cuisine piques your interest, Eduardo has one piece of advice: stock authentic Mexican food. “Retailers must have a better variety of authentic Mexican food,” he says. “Sadly, they all have the same two brands, which are Tex-Mex rather than authentic Mexican food.”

This could include stocking products that use authentic Mexican ingredients or creating new dishes for your cafe or restaurant, such as slow-cooked carnitas, tamales or corn elotes. Even burritos and tacos can be spiced up a notch with authentic mole sauce or freshly made salsa. Mexican cuisine also lends itself well to breakfast or brunch options, like huevos rancheros or chilaquiles.

Another way to boost sales is to show off the versatility of Mexican cuisine, by giving a nod to the flexibility of formats available and meat, dairy and/or gluten-free options. Using fresh ingredients like chipotle, paprika, coriander, avocado, beans and sweat potato, a variety of dishes can be created.

There is no doubt that Mexican food will be hot in 2024 – the only question is how independent retailers will introduce their customers to this exciting, authentic cuisine.

more like this
close stay up-to-date with our free newsletter | expert intel | tailored industry news | new-to-know trend analysis | sign up | speciality food daily briefing