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How A Mexican Food Brand Turns Restaurant Trends Into Pantry Staples

How A Mexican Food Brand Turns Restaurant Trends Into Pantry Staples

Miguel Leal and his co-founders at Somos all hail from different cities in Mexico. Over the course of a few years, they noticed a huge shift in the flavors of Mexican food in US restaurants. “Food became a lot more like the food we ate growing up in Mexico,” Miguel says. It’s now more common to find favorites like al pastor, birria, and elote on the menu.

 A consumer packaged goods (CPG) veteran,  Miguel says the Mexican food he saw at restaurants still didn’t match what he was seeing in grocery stores, where the aisles still contained mostly bright yellow taco shells and canned beans.

So Miguel and his co-founders went on a mission to make Mexican food more accessible for home cooking. Their brand, Somos is a line of burrito and taco kits, rice, beans, and condiments based on authentic flavors. 

Hear how Somos’ founders are capitalizing on restaurant trends with CPG Mexican food products.

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Making cooking more convenient

Miguel and his co-founders felt confident in Somos because they knew most people were not comfortable cooking Mexican food at home—even though it’s one of the most popular cuisines in the US. This is due in part to the large number of ingredients required to make certain dishes.

“What Somos is trying to do is make Mexican food as convenient as making pasta with a jar of pasta sauce,” Miguel explains. That means Somos had to develop and test recipes that required fewer ingredients and less cooking time than the at-home recipes found online.

Somos salsa macha on a table with pizza, tacos, and a cheese board
The Somos team looks to popular restaurant dishes like esquites to direct their product expansion roadmap. Somos

Developing unique cooking processes

The product development often forced Miguel and his co-founders to look for ways to capture the right flavors and textures, and do it at scale. 

For example, Somos uses a cooking process called tatemado, which involves roasting vegetables and tomatoes together. That’s the secret to Somos’ non-watery salsa. “So when you put it on your taco, the water from the salsa doesn’t make your taco soggy, and all the flavor remains on top,” Miguel says.

Sourcing clean ingredients

Miguel says Somos has had to fight misconceptions about Mexican food. Some people think the cuisine is too heavy or not nutritious enough.

“We wanted our first line of product to be all plant based, with clean ingredients, because we felt we needed to really differentiate ourselves from the rest of the Mexican food that was in the market,” Miguel says. “Only by starting at the very top of quality and taste, then we could tell consumers that there was a different way to enjoy Mexican food that would really nourish you.”

Miguel spent a considerable amount of time working with suppliers and farmers in Mexico and helping them get certified as non-GMO and gluten-free producers. And it’s paid off with customers, who appreciate the quality of the ingredients that’s similar to restaurant food.

Looking outside the cuisine

Miguel and his co-founders don’t just look at the trends in Mexican restaurants for product ideas. They also look to other cuisines.

The Somos team saw the popularity of Asian chili crisps with consumers and wanted to find ways to replicate that in Mexican food. The answer was right under their noses. One of the Somos co-founders had a family recipe for salsa macha, a Mexican version of chili oil. 

“When we look at the similarities between two products, we see this trend of global cuisine, especially in condiments, and we think salsa macha is not that different,” Miguel says. Somos and Fly by Jing, a company that makes Chinese condiments, partnered to create content around the companies’ respective products.

Jars of Somos and Chinese takeout boxes of shrimp noodles
Miguel and Jing Gao, the founder of Fly by Jing, collaborated to sample Somos salsa macha and Fly by Jing chili crunch on an assortment of foods, including some Asian dishes. Somos

Predicting long-term popularity

Restaurant trends have a longer tail than you might think. Miguel and his team take regular trips to Mexico to peruse the aisles and find products that aren’t yet widely available in the US. He meets with farmers about new ingredients and has dinner with chefs. 

Due to the length of the product development cycle, Miguel is already looking for products that Somos can bring to the market even five or six years from now.

To learn more about Miguel’s strategy around recipe development and product expansion, listen to his full interview on Shopify Masters.

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This originally appeared on Shopify and is made available here for wider discovery.
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