October 4, 2021
On October 4th we celebrate the taco – a traditional Mexican dish that has become a staple in American cuisine. While the taco’s origin is shrouded in mystery, it seems to trace back to pre-Columbian Mexico where indigenous people filled corn tortillas with fish. One theory is the word “taco” comes from 18th-century Mexican silver miners in Mexico, who used the term to refer to small explosive charges used to excavate the ore. These charges consisted of gunpowder wrapped in paper that was inserted in small holes during the mining process.
Whatever their origins, tacos are one of the favorite foods on both sides of the border, with Americans consuming an estimated 4.5 billion of them a year. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the publicly traded companies whose businesses are linked to the taco’s strong popularity.
Through its Old El Paso brand, General Mills, Inc. (Tii:GIS) produces a robust lineup of everything at-home cooks need to assemble a good taco dinner – shells and tortillas, seasonings, dinner kits, sauces, rice and beans, toppings, and shredded cheese. Old El Paso was founded in 1917 in New Mexico by the Mountain Pass Canning Company and was later acquired by Pillsbury and finally General Mills. These days, the Tex-Mex food provider’s products are available in more than 14 countries, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany, Australia, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, and Finland.
A major competitor of Old El Paso, B&G Foods, Inc. (Tii:BGS) Ortega brand produces a lineup of taco sauces, tortillas and shells, seasoning, peppers, beans, taco meal kits, salsas and dips. While tacos have been popular street food in the U.S. for years, last year’s lockdown resulted in record demand for at-home taco assembly. B&G reported that Ortega’s sales volume jumped 37% last year. Also catering to the home chef, Frontera Foods, which is part of Conagra Brands, Inc. (Tii:CAG) produces a line of Mexican-inspired salsa, tortillas, cooking sauces, guacamole and more. Those of us who like to spice things up with a bit of hot sauce may well have turned to Cholula to kick things up a notch. Cholula is owned by condiment and flavorings maker McCormick & Company, Inc. (Tii:MKC).
Taco Bell has likely been a favored destination for those who prefer going out to feed their taco cravings. Part of the Yum! Brands, Inc. (Tii:YUM) portfolio, Taco Bell serves more than 40 million customers each week in the U.S. and boasts more than 7,000 locations in 30 countries worldwide. Taco Bell recently entered the QSR chicken sandwich wars with its Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco, a taco-sandwich hybrid. Whether this new offering is a hit remains to be seen, but Taco Bell’s popularity is unquestioned. Yum! Brands reported that Taco Bell’s worldwide system sales (excluding foreign currency translation) grew 24% during its second quarter ended June 30, 2021.
While Taco Bell and its 7,000 locations reign supreme in the Tex-Mex-inspired QSR world, it’s not alone in the space. Founded in 1964, Del Taco Restaurants Inc (Tii:TACO) serves more than 3 million guests each week at approximately 600 restaurants across 16 states (and one in Guam). Another, Torchy’s Tacos, started as a simple food trailer in Austin, Texas, becoming a 10-state mini restaurant empire. The company now has 75 restaurants in the South and Midwest and is considering going public. And though best known for its burritos, Chipotle Mexican Grill (Tii:CMG) offers a build-your-own taco at its 2,850 restaurants.
Whether purchased from street vendors, supermarkets, food trucks, or restaurants, taco sales generate billions of dollars a year and have a certain mass appeal that can’t be denied. Wherever and however you prefer your tacos, take a moment on October 4th to appreciate one of Mexico’s simple but delicious contributions to the world.