Mexican food makes for a great occasion in which families sit down and eat a meal together.

Aditi Hilgers, Old El Paso

This is one reason why Mexican is growing ahead of the total world foods category.

Old El Paso’s Fajita Friday campaign encourages families to sit down together at the end of the week and enjoy fajitas.

Aditi Hilgers, Marketing Manager, Old El Paso, tells Grocery Trader about the launch of Tortilla Pockets™ and how the brand is meeting popular lifestyle trends and diets such as vegan and gluten-free.

How popular is Mexican food within the world foods category? What percentage of the overall world foods sector is accounted for by Mexican food?

Mexican accounts for 12.1% share within the World Foods category, up 1% vs. YA1 and is currently growing ahead of the total category2. It is one of only two cuisines that continued to grow over the last year and continues to build penetration versus pre-covid levels3. This is likely to be driven by multiple factors. With the increase of in-home meal occasions, consumers are more open to trying new cuisines. Plus, the simplicity and position as a family favourite makes Mexican an appealing choice for consumers.

Is Mexican night a trend? Do families have a Mexican night?

World Foods currently accounts for just 3% of evening meals4. While we know 92% of consumers are open to Mexican, category penetration is only at 50%, meaning there’s big headroom for growth! And the future looks positive. Not only is Mexican versatile, but we’ve also heard from consumers recently that it’s a favourite meal5. In addition, sitting down to eat Mexican triggers more laughter (+5 pts versus regular dinners) and encourages families to turn off the TV (+6 pt versus other dinners) so it’s the perfect opportunity to get round the table for true quality time.

We’re encouraging this ritualisation of Mexican with our campaign Fajita Friday. After weekdays and weekends started to merge due to various lockdowns, Fajita Friday was designed to help families, households and friends reclaim that Friday feeling. The campaign kicked off earlier this year across radio, influencers & social, encouraging consumers to take part in their own end-of-week fiesta with fajitas, family, and fun. We are on a mission to make fajitas a top 10 family favourite meal and we’re getting closer; they currently sit at number 296.

Mexican Night is also showing up regularly in culture, with Old El Paso featuring organically on Netflix phenomenon ‘Sex Education’ and the latest series of ‘Married at First Sight’. Spotting our products on these hit shows is a testament to the occasion’s growing popularity.

What was the thinking behind the launch of Tortilla Pockets™? What consumer need is the launch targeting?

Old El Paso Tortilla Pockets™ are truly anchored in resolving a consumer pain point around ‘mess’ in Mexican and make the meal experience easier than ever. Consumers told us they love the hands on, fun, customisable nature of Mexican food, but it can sometimes be messy and often more difficult for little hands to fill and handle themselves. Old El Paso Tortilla Pockets’™ are sealed at the bottom to solve that problem!

Despite being positioned as an evening meal occasion, from conversations with more than 2,000 consumers during development of the product we learnt that Old El Paso Tortilla Pockets™ were also great on-the-go, for older consumers who might have limited mobility and even for lunch.

How has the product been performing so far?

The product has been a huge success, hitting £8.8M RSV sales in its first 18 months7. In fact, Tortilla Pockets™ Carriers grew by 430% vs. LY and the Tortilla Pocket™ Kit grew by 340% vs. LY.

Within one month of our launch activation, Tortilla Pockets™ became the third biggest kit in the UK (after Old El Paso Smoky BBQ Fajita Kit and Old El Paso Cheesy Enchilada Kit) and the seventh biggest SKU in Total Mexican, while the standalone eight-pack of carriers are the fourth biggest carrier8.

As mentioned above, consumers are using Pockets for more than just a Mexican meal, and it’s this versatility of usage that is one of the key reasons why they’re 60% incremental to the category9. Interestingly, we also saw that 64% of baskets with Kids Yogurt contained Old El Paso Tortilla Pockets™10 too, showcasing the potential in the lunchbox aperture.

How is Tortilla Pockets™ being supported?

We launched Old El Paso Tortilla Pockets™ with an outstanding 360 campaign worth £3.3M. that reached more than 90% of our target audience, with a TV creative lift at 14%. Alongside the fun and engaging new advert, we stretched across video on demand, extended social and digital channels.

We’ve continued investment with a £1.2million spend in TV, Social, Influencers, Radio, Search & Shopper in 2021 and ensured we took our campaigns all the way through to point of purchase with best-in-class shopper marketing plans and strong promotions across key retail partners.

Our consistent support across both core and innovation is why we remain the #1 spender in world foods11.

How is the brand meeting popular lifestyle trends and diets such as vegan and gluten-free?

40% of our existing Old El Paso portfolio is suitable for vegans, from products like our Our Old El Paso Smoky BBQ Fajita Kit or Old El Paso Sweet Chilli Black Beans to our Old El Paso Chili Seasoning Mix. Our portfolio can greatly complement those opting for vegan/vegetarian lifestyles who don’t want to compromise on taste or nutrition. Consumers love that with Mexican, you can build the meal around personal preference with this sort of customisation.

At the end of last year, we also refreshed our limited-edition range with a first-to-market Veggie Fajita Kit – available now in Morrisons’ as a launch exclusive. The tasty new meal solution is set to be a hit due to more people choosing plant-based options following the pandemic – one in five cut down on meat during lockdown12.

The Kit includes eight soft flour tortillas and a delicious vegan seasoning mix designed to be roasted with vegetables such as sweet potato, carrot, and courgette and will help retailers tap into increased demand for easy, plant-based meal solutions. Given that 92% of plant-based meals are eaten by non-vegans13, this is the perfect opportunity to provide shoppers with a simple switch from a brand they know and love.

Our portfolio is also home to numerous gluten-free options, catering to those with strict dietary requirements. Furthermore, our components and accompaniments platforms offer a wide range of tasty products ranging from jalapenos to sour cream and guacamole, the perfect pairing for Fajita Fridays!

What is the secret of Old El Paso’s success? Why is the brand a leader in the World Food sector?

Firstly, we approach everything with a category first mindset, translating our in-depth category knowledge into actionable, growth-driving point of purchase (PoP) strategies. These PoP strategies are threefold; improving space to drive conversion, driving in-store experience, and building baskets.

As the number one spender in World Foods14, Old El Paso is continually investing in top-of-mind awareness to sustain salience with consumers. This is important because, as we know, 92% of consumers are open to Mexican, but only 50% are buying15 with research showing that we are the 3rd most impulsive category in-store16. We achieve the highest conversion of all brands when looking at the purchase funnel17, and lead in rankings against consumer triggers such as wanting something that is a tasty family favourite and easy to make, plus suits health/dietary needs18, all while being perceived as good value for money19.

At Old El Paso we have something for everyone, from tortillas and seasoning mixes to full meal kits. Confident scratch cookers looking to try new and different foods in a convenient way reach for our components, while less assured cooks tend to look for full meal solutions, using our Kits to improve their skills and grow confidence.

Do you agree that bringing people together to connect over sharing food is more important now than ever after the past 18 months of people not being able to meet up? How is Old El Paso particularly suited to bringing people together?

Absolutely. 44% more shoppers now eat both main meals at home vs. pre-covid20 – meaning that cuisine that can be shared as a family or household is important. We’ve also seen the importance of togetherness increase during and post lockdown, in turn driving more family meal occasions which Mexican is perfectly positioned for. In fact, Mexican is 32% more likely to feature in together time evening meals21.

Old El Paso is fun, tasty, informal, and designed for sharing – ideal for connection – and we know that, as a brand, we remain strongly associated with triggers related to shared moments with friends and family22. What advice do you have for retailers on merchandising the Mexican food category in store?

Mexican is a beacon cuisine, therefore it’s beneficial for the whole World Foods aisle to position it first in flow23. Within the main fixture, it’s important to try and group products by meal occasions, for example, site all Old El Paso meal kits together so that shoppers with a specific mission in mind can easily locate the selection of products that would interest them.

Our number one barrier to purchase is that we’re not on the meal plan as regularly as we’d like to be and we’re more of an impulse buy. As we’re ranked the third most unplanned category in store, key displays outside of the World Foods aisle are critical to trigger purchase24. Cross merchandising across a category like World Foods works well with shoppers, offering one-stop meal for tonight solutions by linking in with deals on chicken. Dual-siting media instore where possible to inspire meal planning and trigger this link between fresh and Mexican is key.

How do you work with retailers to improve sales?

Our main priority is making Mexican a family favourite for everyone. We therefore work with retailers to drive high visibility across the category, from our merchandising to activations.

It’s also important for us that we understand the shoppers for each retailer. We therefore use research and data to support our thinking and market propositions. We’ve seen great success when retailers pair complementary categories in bundle deals, for example a fresh chicken and Old El Paso Fajita Kit bundle has previously delivered +400% uplift vs. base sales25.

The growth that Old El Paso has demonstrated towards bringing new buyers into the category has been tremendous; last year we recruited 800,000 new shoppers26 with Old El Paso Tortilla Pockets™ and more than two million new consumers entered the brand in the last 12 months27.

We’ve also got lots of exciting activity in the pipeline for 2022. Knowing a category-first mindset is what delivers mutual growth for brands and retailers, we’ll continue to build plans based on World Foods insights and wider trends, developing exciting new campaigns to bring to market building on our previous successes on our Make Some Noise campaign. Alongside this, we’ll continue to invest significantly in media to drive consumer top of mind awareness and category penetration.


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