Margaritas and tacos aside, what does Cinco de Mayo mean to American culture?

Established after Mexico’s victory over France on May 5, 1862, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a highly Americanized holiday. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is a widespread celebration of Mexican culture for Mexican-Americans and Americans alike.

Through our Seasonality Initiative, we consider Cinco de Mayo as a prime opportunity to release a food or beverage limited time offer (LTO) in North America. However, there a lot of sensitivities that come with a cultural celebration and as your partner in flavor we’d like to guide you in making the best decision for your brands.

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In exploring Cinco de Mayo as a seasonal LTO occasion, we wanted to get to the root of the holiday and its perception within the United States. We spoke with Val Cantú, Chef and Owner of Californios, and Helen Todd, Co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared, to get both culinary and agency perspectives on the holiday. Both Cantú and Todd can add value from their respective expertise to help your brands answer these questions:

• What does Cinco de Mayo mean in American culture and how has the tradition evolved?
• Is Cinco de Mayo a natural story for my brands to tell and if so, how do we tell it authentically?

Chef Val Cantú is a Mexican-American raised in Texas who set off on his own to open the modern Mexican eatery, Californios. Based on seasonal ingredients, Californios’ meticulously designed cuisine has earned the San Francisco hot spot two Michelin stars and Chef Cantú various accolades.

“Cinco de Mayo is a holiday that tends to be a bigger celebration in the United States. For me, it was always a day where we got together with family and cooked a giant meal together,” said Cantú. “I think [Cinco de Mayo] continues to evolve and grow in scope in the United States. For me, it continues to be a time where I think of my loved ones, our heritage, and preparing a meal that consists of traditional Mexican cuisine.”

As CEO of a social media agency, Helen Todd’s expertise in story telling offers insight to the role your brands can play in Cinco de Mayo and other seasonal occasions. Todd divulges on the process her agency uses to scope whether a client should participate in cultural celebrations like Cinco de Mayo. “With any holiday, we always have to ask our client: Is participating in this holiday true to the brand or is it forced? Also, is it meaningful to the brand’s community? We never want to do something off-brand just for the likes or reactions, but we do want to participate in relevant holidays where it makes sense and the brand can add value... and of course, when appropriate, have fun and join in the celebratory part of the holiday too”, said Todd.

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This year, Todd participated in a SXSW panel, Tomorrow’s Perfect Food Narrative, which explored how brands can use food and drink as an entry point to talk about cultures and celebrations that are tied to food. As highlighted by Cantú, Cinco de Mayo is deeply tied to celebrating traditional Mexican cuisine alongside the company of friends and family.

“Cinco de Mayo is an interesting holiday where more people in the United States celebrate it than in Mexico—morphing into something similar to St. Patrick’s Day in the states.” Todd advises that brands avoid using stereotypical imagery that be may offensive to Mexican-Americans.

When considering Cinco de Mayo as a seasonal food and beverage occasion, brands need to be aware of how the holiday has been taken out of its Mexican context to fit an American narrative, whereas its meaning runs much deeper. In honoring his Mexican heritage, Cantú shares that his true passion is rooted in what the cuisine represents.

“Mexican cuisine is all about giving love, and I think it will continue to be an opportunity for us to come together and share our love for one another. Mexican-Americans are striking an identity for themselves, and I hope that we continue to embrace traditions like Cinco de Mayo to encourage our unity and strength.”

Todd expanded on the topic of being respectful. “It is important for brands to use this opportunity to consider cultural appropriation and respect of individuals from different cultures,” said Todd. “There is a big difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, and appreciation should come through in anyone's celebration of this type of event.”

In determining whether or not a cultural LTO fits in your brand’s story, Todd emphasizes the importance of context and having a deeper understanding of the holiday. “We can’t operate under a rock. We have to understand what conversations are happening on- and offline, how we’re contributing to them through our clients, and ensure that we’re making a positive impact. This is why it’s crucial to make sure that everything - from values to content - is aligned,” Todd said.

Symrise’s Seasonality Initiative is about connecting with a wider audience and generating excitement for your brands. Cinco de Mayo is a commemorative holiday for Mexican-Americans to celebrate family, tradition and culture as well as all Americans to celebrate the vast cultural benefits that Mexico has brought to the United States. If these values align with your brand’s story, Cinco de Mayo may be a seasonal opportunity to celebrate Mexican culture with a food or beverage LTO.

We’ve developed a seasonality framework to help our customers formulate pipelines of new concepts and flavor ideas for the seasons and major holidays. If you have questions or would like to learn more about our initiative please contact us.

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