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Cracking the Market: Pecans and the Booming Snack Industry in Mexico

Paleo Pecan Granola Snack Mix

This Paleo Pecan Granola Snack is an example of how pecans can be used in snacks that could appeal to Mexican consumers. (Photo from Texas Pecan Board)

It is undeniable that Mexico’s culinary scene is vast. Our culinary traditions, vibrant flavors, ancient ingredients, and produce and seeds that grow year-round present a promising landscape for different nuts, especially pecans. Snacking has always been part of Mexican consumers’ lifestyles; snacks are not something that simply helps them get through the day but also brings families and friends together.

In Mexico, snacks, or botanas as we know them, are as diverse as the times when consumers enjoy them. Snacks can be enjoyed mid-day or in the afternoon and range from a piece of fruit to a small sandwich, cookies, chips, or nuts. The reasons for snacking also vary; we may snack to control our hunger or boost energy. Nevertheless, the industry has been evolving, offering a wide range of practical and versatile snacks that are ready-to-eat and fit perfectly into people’s hectic lifestyles in Mexico.

Snacks’ popularity in Mexico is due to several advantages, such as accessibility (they are sold everywhere, and I mean everywhere, as you can easily buy a bag of peanuts or a bag of cookies in the middle of the road while being stuck in a traffic jam), relatively low cost, and attractive presentation and packaging. Also, we can now find a wide variety of base ingredients—corn or wheat flours, potato chips, sweet snacks of fried plantain, flour cracklings, popcorn, natural or dehydrated dried fruits with salt or sugar (cranberries, raisins, figs, walnuts) are among the best known.

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), the consumption of snacks and sweets in Mexico was on the rise in 2022. The most popular products included corn chips (58%), potato chips (29%), and wheat flour snacks (4%), followed by sweets such as chocolates, candies, gummies, etc. According to the INEGI, back in 2021, the snack industry generated incomes around 5.5 million dollars, with an annual growth rate of 4.7%, a trend that remains two years later. This only proves that this industry keeps creating important opportunities for those already in the market and those who want to enter.

The snack industry in Mexico has experienced significant growth in recent years, driven by changing consumer preferences and a rising awareness of healthier eating habits. Traditional snacks like chips, candies, and fried treats are now sharing shelf space with various more nutritious alternatives. This shift is fueled by a growing demand for snacks that not only satisfy taste buds but also align with health-conscious lifestyles.

It’s important to consider that the snack distribution channel in Mexico is also very different than in the United States. Although the retail sector is extremely important in Mexico, the traditional wholesale sector reigns supreme. The Wholesale Grocery Channel represents 0.9% of the National GDP and 4.8% of the Commerce Sector GDP. Its sales last year exceeded more than $11 million (USD). It is essential to mention that the Wholesale Candy Channel separately sells more than $2.0 million (USD). It encompasses 46% of the total sales of grocery products at the national level.

Years ago, snacks tended to be more on the savory side; now consumers have increasingly sought healthier and more diverse snack options, with flavor and nutritional benefits being crucial decision points. This shift in snacking trends gives pecans an opportunity to arise as a nutritious and versatile choice.

In addition to looking to ease hunger, Mexican consumers are now leaning toward snacks that provide nutritional benefits. The demand for snacks rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants is on the rise. Still, growers and manufacturers must always consider that Mexican consumers will not leave flavor behind.

Even when healthy and nutritious foods are preferred, flavor remains a determining factor. Chili flavor, cheese, lime, and traditional Mexican flavors are preferred, with salt having a significant preference growth. Chili, cheese, and lime are all traditional flavors. Growth is observed in the “salt and lime” flavor category, often used in flavor combinations with other top flavors, such as chili and lime and lime and salt. These flavor trends serve as a crucial aspect that food manufacturing companies consider when developing products that align with the trends and give consumers what they are looking for.

Many shoppers also look for convenience and speedy preparation when snacking. Because of this, we have seen an increase in the popularity of snacks in small, easy-to-carry packages. Additionally, consumers favor customization and search for options to suit their needs. This has led to the emergence of a range of products with different flavors and ingredient options, increasing variety, availability, and innovation in the healthy snack market.

According to Ingredion, the Mexican consumer has changed dramatically. For 88% of Mexicans, it is now important that the products they buy contain natural ingredients, while 32% are looking for low-calorie snacks.

Consumers in Mexico are choosing healthy snacks over indulgent ones and seeking brands that respond to their core values. On-package messaging is a go-to source for consumers keen to know about a product’s health and nutritional value. The need for core clean label claims is expanding to include processing claims, with lactose-free and sugar-free growing fast. These messages are getting more essential and act as a counterpart to warming claims. Growth is seen in “natural” and “high source of protein” claims—certainly an advantage for pecans.

Another important aspect is the times of the day when snacks are consumed. In Mexico, snacks are consumed as a mid-day boost or enjoyed during a weekend match, and the motivation behind each decision is exceptionally different. According to Kantar, 70% of snacks are enjoyed outside of the home in a variety of places, including the office, bars, coffee shops, restaurants, and school cafeterias; this knowledge opens opportunities for those companies that want to take advantage of the impulse buy and be the go-to-snack at these points of sale. Ingredion found that weekends and holidays are the favorite days to enjoy a snack, and the favorite time of the day is before and after lunch.

Pecans are a powerhouse of nutrients, containing heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, and various essential vitamins and minerals. They are also a good source of antioxidants, contributing to overall health and well-being. As consumers become more aware of the nutritional content of their snacks, pecans present an attractive option for those seeking a guilt-free indulgence.

Pecans’ adaptability to various culinary applications makes them a versatile ingredient perfect for the Mexican snack industry. The possibilities are endless, from roasted and spiced pecans to pecan-based energy bars and trail mixes. Incorporating pecans into traditional Mexican snacks can offer a unique twist and appeal to consumers’ taste preferences and desire for innovative, healthier options.

While the opportunities for pecans in the Mexican snack industry are evident, challenges such as market education, distribution, and pricing must be addressed. Collaborations between pecan producers, snack manufacturers, and retailers can help overcome these obstacles, ensuring a seamless integration of pecans into the snack market.

As the snack industry in Mexico evolves to meet the demands of health-conscious consumers, pecans stand poised to carve a niche for themselves. Their nutritional benefits, culinary versatility, and potential for sustainable sourcing make them an attractive option for both consumers and the snacking industry. With strategic collaborations and a focus on innovation, incorporating pecans into the Mexican snack industry could not only provide a delightful snacking experience but also contribute to the overall growth and diversification of the market.

We’ve been focusing on the snack industry, as this is the organic path for pecans, but the Mexican market is much bigger than this. In Mexico, pecans are not only used in this industry; our cuisine has traditionally used pecans for many years—from ice creams to smoothies to pies and tamales— thus showing that in Mexico, pecans can be much more than an afternoon treat.