Foodservice is a great place for pork to be,” says Jeff Pigott, foodservice marketing director, National Pork Board. “Many Americans are still looking for flavor adventures.”

While consumers want more flavor, many of them have never experienced authentic ethnic cuisines and flavors. “Therefore, flavored – but familiar – is best,” he adds.

One area where pork is making its move is on Mexican menus. According to a 2002 consumer survey, 73 percent of consumers admit to trying new foods when dining out.

One of the hotter products is carnitas, which literally means little pieces of meat. A new NPB brochure touting its Mexican food campaign says, carnitas are so popular in Mexico, where consumers automatically think of little pieces of slow-cooked pork, that carnitas now mean pork.

“We’re just beginning to take off with carnitas,” says Pigott. “We’re at the point where fajita meats (beef and chicken) were 15 or 20 years ago.”

Carnitas provide consumers with a more authentic Mexican dish, while offering a familiar protein alternative. By mixing pork with familiar (tortillas) and new bread products, foodservice operators can differentiate themselves from the competition.

“The Mexican campaign is helping pork find a leadership role in the marketplace,” Pigott adds. “It offers products that meet consumer’s needs, like burgers do, but pork can lead with Mexican food.”

The National Restaurant Association’s Ethnic Food Study shows that 90 percent of Americans have tried Mexican food, while 85 percent eat it often or at least occasionally.

“There are plenty of different cut applications for pork,” notes Pigott. “We can use loin, shoulder and leg meat for carnitas.”

All of these factors bode well for pork to make a big impact in the Mexican food market. Foodservice operators, especially the fast-casual chains, are competing for customers. People are looking for high-quality food products and reasonable prices.

“The days of quality are upon us and we (U.S. pork industry) are positioned for that,” says Pigott.