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Frozen Mexican entrees are flat, with some bright spots in handhelds. But the snack and appetizer segment has some real stars.

RED'S  Burrito 5 oz


Frozen Mexican entrees rose by 0.2% to $1.128 billion in the 52 weeks ended Aug. 31, according to Nielsen, New York. Units climbed 0.8% to reach 434,714,198.

While brands still own 95.9% of dollar sales and 95.7% of units, private label made inroads off a small base, gaining a fraction of a percentage point in each case.


Several Mexican brands turned in solid results in U.S. supermarkets, drugstores, mass market retailers, military commissaries and select club and dollar retail chains for the 12 weeks ended Sept. 8, according to IRI, the Chicago-based market research firm.

In the frozen appetizers and snack rolls category, Delimex saw sales rise 11.5% to $30.449 million, with José Olé gaining 3.6% to $2.849 million. El Monterey jumped by 10.6% to $67.889 million in frozen handheld entrees (non-breakfast) with José Olé up 7.0% to $13.397 million.

During the same period, refrigerated tortillas were down by 5.2% to $25.958 million, with units off by 9.4% to 12.875 million, IRI said. But there were significant bright spots here. Tortilla Land (Circle Foods, San Diego,, soared by 83.0% to $3.008 million with units ahead by 103.9% to 1.021 million. Private label gained 5.3% to $4.463 million, with units up 1.9% to 2.854 million.

There are several key points affecting frozen snack consumption, and therefore frozen Mexican snack and appetizer consumption, according to a May 2013 report from London-based Mintel, says Rachel Cullen, president and CEO of Ruiz Foods, maker of the El Monterey brand (, Dinuba, Calif.

The research shows that frozen snack consumption is fairly evenly split between consumption as a part of a meal, as a replacement for a meal, and as a snack between meals. This points to the opportunity for growth across a variety of product formats. While small snack offerings can meet the needs of those looking for something to tide them over until the next meal, more substantial choices can be incorporated into meals themselves.

Cullen adds that beyond snacking, lunch is a popular occasion for frozen snack and appetizer consumption, according to the Mintel research. Some 30% of respondents eat products from the snacks and appetizer category while on the go. Individually wrapped selections are preferred because they can be warmed and taken on the go.

She notes that El Monterey Burritos, Taquitos and Shell Shockers are meeting the needs of the consumers, citing Nielsen data showing that during the last 26 weeks the brand is driving 50% of total snacks and appetizers growth. “At this rate,” Cullen says, “El Monterey will soon become the No. 3 in the $4.6 billion snacks and appetizer category.”

Houston-based Windsor Foods (, added José Olé Nacho Bites after noting that nachos were in the top 10 appetizers in restaurants. The products have been a great success, recently expanding distribution and nearly doubling sales in the latest 52 weeks compared with a year ago.

El Monterey’s Shell Shockers Taquitos, available in Nacho Cheese and Jalapeno Ranch flavors, were launched recently and have driven incremental growth in the category, she states. With a flavored corn taquito on the outside and juicy chicken on the inside, the first-of-their-kind snacks carry a suggested retail of $6.99.

Categorized as snacks and appetizers, El Monterey Burritos, Taquitos, and Shell Shockers are ideally merchandised in an El Monterey brand block in the frozen snacks and appetizers section, Cullen says.

Other new product launches have been plentiful in the segment. For example, Red’s All-Natural (, Fairfield, Conn., has debuted 5-ounce snack burritos in Chicken & Cheese and Steak & Cheese varieties.

– By Warren Thayer


Paul Chapa

Paul Chapa

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