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More menus showcase Mexican items

Fish tacos surge in popularity, Technomic finds

A new report by Technomic shows that 2010 may go down as the year of the fish taco.

The Chicago-based research company found that the number of fish tacos on restaurant menus rose 22.5 percent in the first half of 2010, compared with the first half of 2009.

Long John Silver’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Chuy’s, Marie Callender’s, Uncle Julio’s were among the restaurant chains that introduced new fish tacos, said Mary Chapman, Technomic's director of product innovation.

Mexican food in general continues to be popular among consumers, Technomic found. According to the company's data, Mexican restaurant chains saw sales grow 2.7 percent and unit counts rise 1.8 percent in 2009, even as the industry contracted 3.2 percent overall during the same period.

Technomic also found that the number of Mexican entrées on U.S. menus rose 3.3 percent in the first half of 2010, and that 5.4 percent more restaurant chains among its top 500 chains offered Mexican menu items in 2010 than in 2009.

Technomic said consumers had begun to respond to regional Mexican items much as they already did with Italian — Tuscan or Sicilian, for example — and Chinese — such as Cantonese or Sichuan.

“The rise in popularity of Mexican food is the culmination of a number of factors all converging in foodservice at the moment,” Mary Chapman, director of product innovation at Technomic, said.

“The fast-casual boom is certainly part of the equation — Mexican concepts fit well into the fast casual model," she added. "Consumers are also calling for authentic ethnic dining experiences and spicier, more flavorful foods, so Mexican concepts and menu items are on trend in a number of ways right now."

Fish tacos were mentioned on menus 109 times in the first half of 2010, compared with 89 times a year earlier. Of those menu mentions, 40.2 percent promised grilled fish tacos, but fried fish tacos likely beat them out. Of all the menu mentions, 22.8 percent actually said the fish tacos were fried, 21.7 percent said they were “crisp,” 6.5 percent mentioned the word “battered,” and 5.4 percent used “breaded” as a descriptor.

Twelve percent offered roasted fish and 9.8 percent said the fish was blackened. “Sautéed” was mentioned 5.4 percent of the time, broiled and smoked each scored 3.3 percent.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].

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