Hispanic and Asian American consumers are a growing demographic in fresh perimeter departments. Nielsen reports that Hispanics will have $1.5 trillion in buying power by 2015, a 50 percent increase from 2010, while the average Asian American household expenditure in 2012 was $61,400, 19 percent more than non-Asian households.
Learning there’s a lot more to Mexican cuisine than just tacos and burritos, the chefs at Wegmans Food Markets decided to bring South-of-the-border flavors to many of the company’s self-serve food bars. They spent months learning about techniques and ingredients from an internationally celebrated authority. The new menu was introduced at most Wegmans stores from March 18 through May 9.
The menu includes 32 hot and cold dishes and sauces to mix and match. Among familiar favorites are chicken and cheese tamales, Mexican black beans, Mexican rice, guacamole, fresh tortillas and fresh tortilla chips. Those looking for something new will find entrees like Braised Pork with Poblano Salsa Verde and Pan-Seared Tilapia with Cherry Tomato Salsa, and sides like Roasted Cauliflower with Lime Vinaigrette and Toasted Pepitas. Everything is priced at $8.99 a pound or less, and dinner is likely to cost from $7 to $12 per person.
The seed that grew into “Tastes of Mexico” was planted more than a year ago, says chef Jim Schaeffer, vice president of culinary operations at Wegmans. “We wanted to expand our Latin offerings and do so at the highest level. We wanted deeper, complex flavors. We wanted fun, delicious food that was healthy, too, with plenty of vegetables.”
Schaeffer and other Wegmans chefs headed for the Culinary Institute of America’s Latin Conference in San Antonio in 2013, where they met Roberto Santibañez and made an instant connection. “He’s a real authority. He’s written three books and is the chef-owner of three upscale restaurants – all named Fonda – in New York City. They all feature authentic Mexican cuisine. His sauces are incredible, he’s a phenomenal teacher, and a great partner for us.”
When Santibañez met with chefs in Wegmans kitchens, he shared techniques and recipe tweaks that moved dishes and sauces from good to great. “His black beans are so silky, so flavorful, and he showed us how to make them that way,” Schaeffer says. When Wegmans chefs met with Santibañez in New York City, he led them to neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn where they shopped for the best ingredients for Latin dishes and sampled the fare at outstanding taquerias.
After the menu took shape, it was time to teach Wegmans chefs in more than 60 stores the finer points of making the dishes, to assure an ample supply of fresh menu items throughout the day. Schaeffer and Scott Watterson, Wegmans prepared foods business manager, hit the road for several weeks earlier this year to talk about the program and demonstrate techniques with culinary staff in all divisions.
“We set out to introduce exciting Mexican flavors while honoring our commitment to help make great meals that are easy, healthy, and affordable,” Schaeffer says. “We can’t wait to share these new dishes with our customers.”