Chips and salsa are a staple snack, but salsa as an integral part of consumer eating habits is outgrowing the dipping bowl and becoming part of main dishes. New flavors and combinations are on the rise, putting different types of salsa on the map as the next favorite topping for everything from savory entrees to sweet desserts.

Salsa By the Numbers

In 2015, Technomic analyzed 2,281 dishes incorporating salsa spanning 356 operators. There was a growth of 9.9% and 7.2%, respectively, over a five-year period, with salsa usage peaking in 2013. Casual Dining and Midscale Dining both saw a market penetration of 69%, while Quick Service saw 20%, Fast Casual saw 44%, and Fine Dining came in at 38%.

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Overwhelmingly, salsa in entrees is on the rise, but use in appetizers is gaining as another avenue for salsa. The top five fastest growing in dishes in popularity to incorporate salsa are tortas, Mexican value meals, tostadas, specialty salads, and tortilla soup. These are joining the classic, top-performing dishes of tacos, burrito, fajitas, quesadillas, and chicken wraps. The top five paired ingredients come as no surprise: cheese, chicken, tortilla, sour cream, and tomato.

 Blending Classic and Contemporary

Although the top rising dishes incorporating salsa are South American in nature, they all have very different very flavor profiles. In fact, black bean salsa is one of the fastest-growing condiment trends in the United States. Some very new salsa flavors just introduced to the market include papaya, sesame, sweet chili, buttermilk, and Hawaiian. These join the growing market of flavors like cream, goat cheese, citrus, ginger, and cotija cheese. Between these 10 new flavors, a more savory, creamy, multinational salsa is emerging, while the fresh, saucy, spiciness of classic red salsa seems to still be a staple on many menus. Consumers are more willing than ever to play with flavor, as evidenced by these new flavors. However, the most mainstream and mature flavors of tomato, poblano, onion, and jalapeno pepper still reign as the supreme salsas.

Regional Favorites

The top new salsa flavors emerging around the country show that American palates are getting more complex and people are willing to experiment when it comes to trying out interesting flavor combinations. All four regions are combining pesto with salsa, creating a more savory, herbed topping for meat dishes. In the West, mint is prevalent, while the Midwest is adding carrots to its salsa. The South is bringing dairy to the salsa party with the use of goat cheese and buttermilk, and the Northeast is experimenting with mustard and applewood.

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