Me and My Brand: Jose Alves on Old El Paso

Jose Alves, Old El Paso’s Senior Brand Manager, reveals the brand’s massive uplift in sales since the pandemic left us dreaming about exotic foreign climes and in need of evocative, stimulating tastes while restaurants have been unavailable – adding even more appeal to the World Food appetite

Jose Alves

Can you please give an overview of your brand? 

Old El Paso is the UK’s number one Mexican food brand1 and we’ve been around a while – we’re over 80 years old! Our portfolio includes more than you might think, ranging from individual tortillas, spice mixes, cooking sauces, salsas, chips and of course, our iconic kits.

How is your brand currently performing? 

Since lockdown, we’ve gained over 1 million new consumers2 and we’re seeing fantastic growth: +30.3 per cent, with a share of 52.4 per cent3. This is continuing to accelerate, which in turn is growing the World Food category as whole.

We attribute this to the fact our meal kits are a real family favourite and play into the huge trend for meal customisation. People can experiment with a variety of fresh accompaniments, flavours, and textures to create the perfect personalised fajita or taco and feel like they’re eating out at a restaurant!

How is the world food market currently performing? 

We know that people are increasingly experimenting with different flavours and cooking styles, and we’ve seen an increased appetite for using exotic flavours, spices, and pastes4.

A wider awareness of global cuisine and the growing popularity of “fakeaways” is seeing a desire to replicate different world food dishes at home, and this is reflected in the growth of the World Foods market by +28.7 per cent in the latest 12 weeks vs. last year.

One of the most popular world food options, Mexican is up +18.7 per cent in the same period5 and continues to see gains in consumer penetration.

Do you have any new product development? 

We’ve just launched our biggest innovation in a decade – new Tortilla Pockets. The wraps are sealed at the bottom to offer a first-to-market, mess-free solution to mealtimes.

The product has been three years in the making, so we’re thrilled to finally bring it to market. Given the levels of excitement that we saw while working through consumer research to develop the perfect product and packaging, we are confident Tortilla Pockets are truly anchored in solving a consumer need – and the spill-free design is ideal for kids.

For us, Mexican is all about connecting over food – using your hands, sharing the experience, and making good noise while you’re doing it. Tortilla Pockets will allow people to do just that – minus the mess! – and they’re set to bring 69 per cent incremental growth to the overall category6.

Not only ideal for a Mexican dinner, the innovation is forecasted to open up the lunch occasion by 61 per cent, which is already worth £3.9 billion in the UK and growing7, and they’re also great for snacking.

How are you supporting your brand & NPD? 

We’re supporting Tortilla Pockets as part of an outstanding media plan over the next 12 months. Overall, our investment will be £6m, making us the biggest World Foods spender. The ATL media for Tortilla Pockets is planned to reach 88 per cent of Old El Paso’s target audience in October alone.

To complete the path to purchase and drive trial, a riveting shopper activation is supporting the launch both in-store and online too, ready for shoppers to ‘launch into mess-free Mexican!’

How important are independent retailers to your brand? 

Incredibly important – we take the time to know retailers, even more so now because of the lifeline their stores have provided to communities during the pandemic. We know that more and more people are shopping locally – in fact, convenience has been the fastest growing channel in Total Mexican since the lockdown, up +46 per cent YoY8.

What trends are occurring in the sector? 

Demand for Gluten Free has exploded in recent years as people become savvier about the link between gut health and overall wellbeing, which is why we launched Gluten Free Fajita Kits in 2018, followed by a Gluten Free Enchilada Kit last year.

The range has gone from strength to strength since launch and saw an increase in sales of +81% during the last 52 weeks9. With people increasingly looking for adventurous flavours to enliven a mid-week meal, it opens up Mexican to a new audience and ensures everyone at the table can get stuck in.

Another trend that can’t be ignored is veganism. Some people have adopted the lifestyle fully, while others dip their toe with ‘meat-free Mondays’ or by choosing plant-based alternatives to their favourite meals.

As Mexican can be easily adapted for vegetarian or vegan diets by swapping out meat for extra veggies or meat-free alternatives, we’re seeing a rise in shoppers choosing it for their mid-week meals. Our vegan-certified Smoky BBQ Fajita Kit is a fresh, fun, and tasty meal choice that’s suitable for a plant-based diet. In fact, we saw a sales uplift of +10.7 per cent10 this Veganuary – and expect another strong performance in 2021!

Describe your brand in three words…

Connection, happiness & delicious!

  1. Source: TOTAL MEXICAN Source: ScanTrack Data to: WE 22.08.20
  2. Nielsen World Foods Quarterly Database 27.06.2020
  3. Source: TOTAL MEXICAN ScanTrack Latest 24w WE 22.08.20
  4. Survey of 2,000 adults by Miso Tasty
  5. Nielsen World Foods Quarterly Database 27.06.2020
  6. Source: Nielsen Test (2019) & (2017)
  7. Kantar Usage Panel 52 WE 29th Oct 2019 vs YA, carried out lunches
  8. Source: TOTAL MEXICAN ScanTrack Latest 24w WE 22.08.20
  9. Nielsen Scantrack, Value Sales MAT, WE 22.08.2020
  10. TOTAL MEXICAN ScanTrack Latest 4w WE 25.01.20 (YoY)