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Peru: Exotic Ingredients Re-Shape Food 

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Traditional Peruvian products become mainstream in modern packaged food.

BY SEAN KREIDLER
Euromonitor International

Recent improvements in purchasing power, health awareness and the domestic promotion of native products in Andean countries like Peru have resulted in a new movement for their use as flavoring and ingredients in modern commercialized packaged food.

Seemingly forgotten over the years by the growing urban population, local consumers are now increasingly demanding traditional ingredients, getting back in touch with the products their ancestors have produced and consumed for millennia. The
Peruvian packaged food market is worth $7 billion, according to Euromonitor International. Income constraints limit market potential; however, packaged food manufacturers can definitely exploit native ingredients to boost their appeal and connect with Andean consumers. Promotions by domestic organizations are contributing to this shift to help support local economies, positioning native products as a source of heritage and national pride, as well as spurring demand from consumers hoping to reap the health benefits from these unique products. Many native Andean crops also represent a potential boost to local industry through, not only local demand, but also the potential export market to wealthier and more health-conscious countries constantly in search of the next superfood. With many factors working in their favor, local flavors and ingredients are quickly getting back in fashion with positive outlooks for both domestic consumers and industry.  

THE RE-CONNECT

The combination of Andean highlands and Amazonian jungle provide Peru with unique and extremely diverse landscapes that are the birthplace of and prime growing conditions for many distinct products. The world famous potato originated in this rugged landscape, but it is other exotic crops that are now gaining ground and being re-incorporated into more local consumer diets. After the colonial conquest, many products were phased out by products brought from Europe. The major casualties were the hearty Andean grains like quinua, kiwicha and cañawa that were replaced by rice or wheat, but are now being brought back into the mainstream due to better appreciation and knowledge of their high content of protein, vitamins and minerals. Likewise, products like maca are increasingly found as food additives or herbal dietary supplements while jungle fruits like camu camu or lúcuma are popular flavorings for ice cream, jam and yogurt.  

Now more than ever local cuisine is seeing a revival with greater promotional efforts. Gastronomy is linked to diverse regional ingredients and culture, and thus, a source of national pride. This renewed sense is helping to boost awareness and demand of native ingredients that have been preserved by indigenous or rural populations, but set aside by many modern urban consumers. Regional culinary festivals showcase local produce and dishes, seemingly competing with one another for the best ingredients or cuisine or as the birthplace of certain products or dishes. This has taken a modern twist and helped spawn a growing industry of small producers that offer packaged food made with local products.

The popular Asian-influenced dish arroz chuafa has been tinkered to use quinua instead of white rice. The native coca leaf has similarly been fused into packaged food items such as cookies made using coca-flour or coca-flavored sugar confectionary products. Even chilled processed meats have seen the incorporation of packaged sausages made using alpaca, a native camelid praised for its lean and flavorful meat. Busier lifestyles due to urbanization have caused many to stray from traditional culinary roots as fresh food preparation unfortunately does not keep pace. However, this has also created growing demand for packaged food options that offer the health benefits of traditional ingredients in modern formats. 

HARVESTING HEALTHY OPTIONS

Traditional Andean products are once again becoming incorporated into the daily diet of more Peruvians through innovative good-for-you packaged food products. This trend directly caters to the time-strapped urban population. These consumers have higher disposable incomes to afford value-added products and greater conscience to eat healthier. In turn, they are prime targets for domestic producers and government initiatives to promote local agriculture to integrate traditional native ingredients into the development of new, modern packaged products. On-the-go lifestyles have prompted the introduction of many healthy and quick-to-prepare packaged foods that are using local flavors and ingredients to add to their allure.

Products like the vitamin and mineral fortified hot cereal Maca Avena by Molitalia SA are quick, nutritious protein-packed breakfast options to start the day. Even local supermarket private labels are now offering quinua oatmeal and international player Quaker Oats (PepsiCo) has jumped on board offering quinua and maca hot cereals. Cereals not only target adults, but are possibly more geared towards parents to buy for their children. These products’ attractive, fun brand names and their modern packaging help to catch consumers’ attention, like the breakfast cereal Kiwilocos Kiwicha Pop by Industrias Alimenticias Cusco SA.

Even typically unhealthy products have seen innovation like the introduction of the first mayonnaise made with sacha inchi oil, derived from the extremely Omega-3 rich seeds of the Amazonian plant. Sweet and savory snacks are also seeing the use of local products, positioned as better-for-you such as quinua or cañawa extruded snacks or camote (sweet potato) chips. Not only are these more beneficial than wheat or corn-based snacks, but they are also gluten-free and often organic, based on small-scale, locally-sourced produce. As more people adopt healthier lifestyles, local products are a perfect fit offering healthier substitute ingredients in existing products. Likewise, busy consumers have created demand for new products like energy and nutrition bars as healthier snacking options. These bars are perfect for on-the-go consumption and easily incorporate nutritious and energy rich kiwicha, maca, quinua, or the hearty high-altitude grain kañihua. Typically marketed as energizing, fortified, healthier snacks, many local ingredients are resurging as popular additions to many packaged food products. Similarly, resurgence in locally derived products as flavorings is riding the tide of consumers looking to re-connect with traditional ingredients, but in modern packaged food formats.

The wealth of unique produce that comes from the Amazon and Andes allows for widely diverse flavor options that are becoming more commonplace in packaged foods. As increasingly urban and busy lifestyles cause many consumers to shift to packaged food options rather than traditional fresh food preparation, local flavors are now, more than ever, being preserved in distinct ways in new packaged formats. Amazonian fruits like lúcuma or camu camu are popular flavoring options in dairy and baked goods. Andean chili peppers such as rocoto or ají amarillo have been successfully developed into packaged table sauces such as the Ala Cena brand line by Peruvian company Alicorp SAA or as flavors for the national-pride-evoking Lay’s Peruanísimas line of chips that uses local potato varieties. Companies are taking advantage of local flavor options to connect with consumers who are looking to maintain their link to traditional cuisine while shifting to packaged options. Local flavors and ingredients represent a great opportunity for both domestic and international companies to develop new brand extensions to better cater to local tastes and preferences with interesting prospects to also expand these products abroad.  

DISTINCT PRODUCTS, DIVERSE PROSPECTS

Recent developments to boost the sales of packaged food by incorporating local flavors and ingredients have proven successful. Despite the relatively small packaged food market in Peru due to the tradition of fresh food, incorporating native ingredients into packaged food products resonates with local consumers and taps into the health benefits they are looking for. Overall many of these traditional crops are still niche even on the local level and nearly non-existent outside the Andes.

This represents an opportunity to expand the local harvest for both domestic consumption and export, benefitting artisanal or small-scale farmers who are skilled at taking advantage of the specific local microclimates to produce unique products. Organic or fair trade certification can further increase appeal abroad and the royalties will help support and serve as testament to the local communities that have preserved these ancestral crops.

Peru can profit from the export opportunity of native products through several major free trade agreements already in place with China, United States and just recently the European Union, and with more in the works with Japan and South Korea. International manufacturers can use these unique flavors to revitalize brands or use new ingredients to expand product portfolios with exotic, healthy options that should more easily fetch premium prices in developed markets. Even beyond packaged food, these crops are being used as ingredients in herbal/traditional dietary supplements or energy drinks, as well as flavoring in products like liqueurs, further highlighting how the opportunities that unique Andean products present are as diverse as the products themselves.

Sean Kreidler is a research analyst at Euromonitor International. This article was written for Latin Business Chronicle.

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