Director General
Zumba Pica

Tamarind Attracting Customers Beyond Borders

By Jan Hogewoning | Sat, 01/04/2020 - 11:00

Tamarind candy, sprinkled with chili and salt, are a staple of Mexican culture. Despite having long faced the competition of an array of new candies, the flavor continues to draw old and new customers across borders, drawn to its unique taste, says Miguel Angel Quiroga, Director General of candy-maker Zumba Pica. “The special flavor is being discovered by palates far beyond the borders of Mexico,” he says.

The export market is particularly important for growth, and the US is a key target. Zumba Pica has been active north of the border for 17 years, and it has enjoyed a steady growth in customers. “We target our fellow Mexicans, who in part enjoy tamarind candy for the nostalgia it evokes. At the same time, non-Mexican Americans are also starting to get hooked,” says Quiroga. The rise in popularity is helped by the fact that other Mexican companies are exporting not only tamarind but also other nostalgic Mexican goods such as chili.

The global confectionary market, valued at just over $184 billion in 2015, is expected to grow to $232 billion by 2022, according to a report from Allied Market Research. Europe is the leading market with the Asia-Pacific region in second.

Given that the products are all produced in Mexico and then distributed through third parties to locations in the US, the recent trade tensions between the US and Mexico could pose a challenge. However, Quiroga has seen no impact, saying the only scenario that could cause uncertainty would be the failure to ratify USMCA. “The bigger hurdle is that to sell a product in the US you need to have a lot of certifications and permits. This is a time-consuming process,” he explains. Other destinations the company is now working to penetrate are Central and South America. The company also has a different product portfolio for each country, catering to local tastes.

Zumba Pica’s product is made from real tamarind pulp and cane sugar, both sourced locally in Mexico. Innovation includes introducing new varieties of sweets that have a lower sugar to cater to the latest segment of consumer demand. Adaptability is one key to success for any candy-maker. “We need to be ready to move with any new consumer trend,” Quiroga says.

The company also employs a supervisory board to sound new ideas. “They are like the devil’s advocate, constantly challenging us with new ideas. They make us alert and show us new opportunities,” Quiroga explains. “It is easy to stick to tradition, but to survive one must innovate to keep that tradition interesting.”

All of the company’s production takes place in Mexico at its only plant. Quiroga says that over the years the industry has professionalized and competition has grown. To stay ahead of the curve, attentive service is key. “We maintain close contact with our clients, having sales agents in every Mexican state,” he says. The service is enforced by standard visits to clients, where opportunities to improve are exchanged.

One of the industry’s cost pressure points is the price of sugar, which in recent years has been higher in Mexico than in other parts of the world. “If refined sugar was less expensive, such as syrup, our product could be more accessible to a broader range of people,” Quiroga says.

Despite a difficult economy, Quiroga foresees more growth with the help of new markets. At the same time, Mexico still offers the company a great deal of room to increase its share. “If the economy improves, consumption will naturally grow with it.”

Jan Hogewoning Jan Hogewoning Journalist and Industry Analyst