How consumer preferences influenced Old El Paso
Jose Alves from Old El Paso spoke to our Editor about the importance of listening to consumers and how this has helped to shape the popular Mexican brand’s range.
One of the main reasons given for not trying Mexican food in the UK is the perception that it will be a messy experience, Jose Alves, Senior Brand Manager for Old El Paso in the UK, told New Food.
However, that isn’t to say that Brits don’t want to eat Mexican food; according to Alves, an Old El Paso survey revealed that as many as 90 percent of consumers are open to trying it.
So how do you overcome the barrier of mess with a cuisine that is inherently mucky? “Tortilla Pockets,” answered Alves. Three years ago, the Mexican brand set themselves a mission to create a tortilla that would better hold its fillings without seepage.
The result was a tortilla with a sealed bottom – a challenge that necessitated creating something entirely new. “It took a lot of engineering work to develop the tools which enabled us to create this tortilla technology, but we managed it – we have an amazing R&D team.” And the reaction, Alves added, has been “phenomenal”.
Old El Paso is not unfamiliar with adapting to consumer needs; in fact, Alves attributed the company’s willingness to listen as key in the brand’s product evolution.
“Our roots go back as far as 1917, when a farmer in New Mexico created a company called the Mountain Pass Canning, which canned excess produce – tomatoes, beans etc, – and used them to create a fiery sauce. At the time, this was quite innovative.”
In 1938, the brand registered as Old El Paso, and as it developed into a more established company, it saw an opportunity to expand its range from hot sauce to tortillas and then meal kits.
“We have always been very focused on consumer needs and solving pain points,” said Alves.
He explained that successfully delivering non-local cuisine requires a careful balance between appreciating the roots of that food and marrying it with the tastes and needs of the consumers in a given country. “We have had to adapt the brand over time to be suitable for different markets.
“We are all about giving our consumers a genuine Mexican taste and we have experts who help us remain close to these origins, as well as teams around the world whose job it is to find out the latest trends.
“Old El Paso is the best of both worlds! We have taken our favourite parts of the Mexican cuisine and tweaked them to ensure our products are completely aligned to our consumers’ tastes! For example, lots of Mexican food is quite spicy and we know that this can be a barrier for some people. However, Old El Paso’s roots are firmly Mexican and this remains an important part of our brand and new product innovation.” Nevertheless, Old El Paso has responded to these heat-related concerns with the creation of products with no spice.
“Our journey started with easy, accessible hot sauce, through to the ease of kits, and now products such as mess‑free pockets.”
When the brand first started, it was very US-centric, added Alves; but you can now find Old El Paso in Europe, Japan and even New Zealand. “This has meant we had to understand a variety of different consumers and their specific needs. As such, we have been working on some interesting new flavours that each region will appreciate.”
He continued: “Mexican food overall has grown fantastically over the years and we have benefited from that; but we have also been responsible for some of that growth too, leading the category in many ways.” He pointed to other brands which have since released Mexican meal kits.
“Consumers expect us to keep doing different things – and that’s how we stand out; we innovate and evolve with consumer demands.”