“As a trend, demand for plant-based meat alternatives is still small in Mexico but there is definitely interest and that’s why we are showing these prototypes," said Victor Ortiz, sales director for meat and bakery at DuPont, speaking to FoodNavigator-LATAM yesterday from Expo Carnes y Lacteos in Monterrey.
The ingredient giant is presenting meat-free fajitas, chorizo, and tinga, a Mexican dish typically made with shredded meat such as chicken, beef or pork. DuPont’s samples at the trade show are all made with texturized soy protein.
Ortiz does not believe that the meat-dominated culture in Mexico – and Latin America in general – is a barrier to consumer interest in plant-based meat alternatives.
“This show is a big opportunity to show off these ingredients and highlight how versatile they are," Otiz said, who is head of sales in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
"We can include them in any kind of product and customize them for local flavors and tastes. Regular Mexican meals that people are familiar with can be prepared with plant-based ingredients.”
So how have people been reacting to plant-based vegetarian food at one of Mexico’s major meat and dairy trade shows?
“People are not suspicious at all,” Ortiz said. “We were very surprised at how the products were received. At first, people ask, ‘You’re at a meat show and you’re not showing things related to meat?’
"But our customers see DuPont as a leader for meat ingredients and [plant-based products] are seen as a niche market to expand their core line of products. Even current producers already have some additions for veggie products.”
Such products will appeal to more ‘premium-minded’ consumers, said marketing manager Hilda Paredes.
“There are two different Mexicos,” she said. “Some people want affordable food and need ingredients to reduce the cost and then there are consumers with
bigger purchasing power who are looking for premium and niche products.”
Imported plant-based products are also available but are very expensive, Paredes added.
According to Ortiz, there are no specific trends emerging in the Mexican meat market. "What is important for consumers is the products should be safe, nutritious and flavorful.
While in Europe, consumers are increasingly interested in 'clean label' meat products that are free from nitrites and nitrates (used as preservatives and to maintain color in processed and cured meat, and that have been linked to cancer), this is not of major concern to many Mexicans.
“There is no clear definition of what clean label means. For some people, it means having fewer ingredients on the labels, for others, it’s about more natural ingredients and for others, it’s about more organic ingredients.
“In general, people here are concerned about food safety, and microbiological and microbial [activity]. Of course, certain ingredients might be perceived in a negative way by some consumers but when people consider the benefit that ingredient brings to the product – and the fact that without it, the food might not be safe to eat – there is general acceptance.”
Manufacturers and suppliers need to bear in mind that in Latin America cold storage facilities may not always be available or respected, he added.
“[Customers, therefore] need to have several solutions to help them maintain the integrity of their product.”
Ortiz said he believed food safety and “the microbial aspect” to be one of the most important issues in the minds of Latin America consumers, particularly for meat and dairy.
In October last year, DuPont opened a meat application center in Mexico City, adding to its existing application labs in the capital for beverages, bakery, culinary, fats and oils, and dairy products.
The biannual Expo Carnes y Lacteos attracts 6,500 visitors from the meat and dairy industry and is held in Monterrey, an important business and industrial hub in the north-east of the country.