If the U.S. Hispanic market were its own country, the nation would rank as the 13th largest global economy, said Emmanuel Laroche, vice-president of marketing and consumer insights, North America, for Symrise, Inc., Teterboro, N.J.

Mr. Laroche served as the leadoff presenter at the 2015 “Sabor in America,” a symposium sponsored by Symrise to offer insights into the Latino influence in food and beverage markets. The event was held in July to coincide with the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition in Chicago. In his talk, Mr. Laroche melded data about Hispanics with insights and questions about how food and beverage companies should think about the changing demographic environment.

While for many years, and still today, demographic experts have advised about how much more important Hispanic consumers will be in the years ahead, Mr. Laroche offered eye popping facts and figures about how far the Latino community already has come as a force in the United States.

Between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. Hispanic population grew by 43%, four times the rate of the general population. Currently, Hispanics account for 17% of the U.S. population.

Chicago, for example, is the fifth largest Hispanic community in the United States and currently is 30% Latino. Within the Windy City’s Hispanic community, 80% are of Mexican origin, 10% are from Puerto Rico and the balance come from a variety of origins, including 2% from Guatemala.

Mr. Laroche said Syrmise’s U.S. home state of New Jersey has the seventh largest U.S. population of Hispanics in the nation and the fourth largest Asian population.

“By the 2040s, New Jersey will be a majority-minority state,” he said.

For food companies looking to capture the millennial market, which numbers 80 million, an understanding of the Hispanic consumer is crucial Mr. Laroche said. He estimated that 24% of all millennials are Hispanic. The median age of U.S.-born Hispanics is 18, while the median age of foreign-born Hispanics is 40. Roughly two thirds of U.S. Hispanics were born in the United States. The proportion of Hispanic households with income exceeding $50,000 a year is growing faster than the general population, Mr. Laroche said.

Millennial values of authenticity, curiosity, comfort, sharing and honesty are reflected in the group’s buying habits, he said.

While Hispanics represent a growing presence nationwide, 60% of Latinos live in only five states – California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois. States with fast growing Hispanic populations include the Carolinas, Arkansas, Kentucky and Minnesota.

A challenge for food and beverage companies is striking the right balance as they address Hispanic consumers, Mr. Laroche said.

“Latinos do not want to be marginalized but be recognized for what makes them unique,” he said.

To successfully market to this population segment, Mr. Laroche said food and beverage companies must look at the variety of ways Latinos are changing how America eats. Among issues that need to be more fully understood are:

  • Latino eating behavior inside and outside the home
  • Different food cultures within the Hispanic population
  • Latin flavor opportunities with broad appeal
  • What snacking means for millennial Latinos
  • The challenges facing food companies are not simple, Mr. Laroche said.

“For example with snacking, can a product delight both Hispanics and non-Hispanics,” he said. “Latinos are inspired by where they come from but are not defined by it.”

Additionally, Mr. Laroche estimated that 70% of Latinos may be characterized as acculturated or bicultural. More generally, he said bicultural growth represents more than 20% of total U.S. population growth and accounts for 45% of Latino population growth.

He asked, “What impact does this cultural duality have on food, snacking and flavors?”

Looking forward, the outsized importance of the Hispanic consumer will grow still further, Mr. Laroche said. He noted that current forecasts suggest the group will grow by 167% between 2010 and 2050. This growth rate compared with 42% for the population overall, 142% for Asians, 56% for African Americans and only 1% for Caucasians/non-Hispanics.