In an era when street food is big business around the world, the “Truth About Street” study, released by McCann Worldgroup Latin America, reveals that most marketers are missing out on a legendarily vibrant and increasingly sophisticated street food scene. This unprecedented study reports that Latin America’s economically active middle class population – approximately 170 million people – annually consumes some $127 billion of street food [figures in USD]. Yet revenue is not accruing to branded food products, currently almost invisible on the streets.
Said Luca Lindner, Regional Director of McCann Worldgroup: “This study, which put our employees in direct contact with the reality on the streets, confirms a perception that the streets of Latin America can be a significant new revenue source for food and beverage brands.” The study also identifies attitudes towards street foods and specific national and regional street food preferences relevant to marketers.
The “Truth About Street” study was conducted by over 2,500 McCann Latin America employees who on a designated day (May 10, 2012) took to the streets of 25 cities (including Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Bogota and Caracas), specifically in areas with high concentrations of middle income consumers to collect information, visuals and insights about the behavior of 12,000 consumers regarding “street food.” The teams tracked everything these consumers ate and drank while on-the-go at sites where people linger less than 30 minutes and spend less than $5.
Among the findings
Branded food products are almost invisible
At a time when city streets have become lively and profitable showcases for branded food and beverage products, the study shows a largely missed opportunity in Latin America.
* There is a particular opportunity for foods with health benefits. A quarter of respondents did not recall any food or drink brand associated with health.
* In the beverage category, 20% did not recall any brand associated with health. Among those who mentioned company names, the top recall was Coca-Cola, 36%.
Well-being is feeling well
The street food concept of well-being is less about health and more about happiness and satisfaction. Asked about brands related to well-being and health, brands associated with pleasure predominated – including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, beer, and even brands of cachaca [a liquor made from fermented sugarcane juice].
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but…
Although street food from “ambient vendors,” nameless, crowded together, and with questionable hygiene, remains a popular option, there is a trend towards healthier settings more conducive to brands.
* In Brazil and Argentina most food consumption is from stands, prompting Argentineans’ lack of concern (49%) about vendors – though arguably Argentina has the unhealthiest street food preferences: fried foods, carbohydrates; no fruit carts.
* Puerto Rico’s sophisticated food carts carry the most branded foods; fruit carts and stands are easiest to find in Guatemala and Mexico. In those 3 markets, 49%, 57% and 43%, respectively, believe street food is not harmful.
The street educates people’s palates from childhood
A lifetime of loyalty can reward street brands that develop followers. Overwhelmingly, the study found that children perpetuate parents’ street food habits and appetites.
* In Argentina, an estimated 67% eat street food more than once a week; in Puerto Rico, 66%, in Mexico 58%, in Guatemala, 56%, in Chile 49%; the lowest, Brazil, 36%.
One ingredient can make all the difference
The study indicated the striking presence of one ingredient in each regional street diet, which when appropriated by a brand can favor faster insertion into the consumer market. In Brazil it’s cassava; in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, mate [herb] and beef; in the Andes, potato is the base for street food; in Central America, the Caribbean and some South American countries, banana is ubiquitous; corn dominates in Mexico and parts of Central America.
* Choosing street food for its national flavor is most prevalent in Puerto Rico (48%), Guatemala (38%) and Brazil (35%). 63% appreciate street food with familiar, home-cooked flavor.
Truth About Street continues McCann’s long tradition of consumer insight studies, and is part of the network’s recently-launched global research platform, Truth Central. The study was led by McCann Planning Director, Josafat Solis.