Tamales may have been first developed by the Mayans, the Incans, the Aztecs – or all three. Wrapped in a corn husk, the structure of a tamale makes it very easy to store food and keep it fresh over a prolonged time period. It may be a food that is over 8,000 years old.
Tamales are often associated with Mexican food, similar to refried beans or the quintessential taco, but different geographic regions have their own take on it. Look for “halacas,” “bollos,” and “humitas” when evaluating the tamales industry.
The dough of a tamale is usually made with “masa,” which is a corn-based flour. It can also be made with beans, rice, potato starch, tapioca starch, or even spinach. Then the tamales are filled with a favorite food, usually beef, chicken, pork, or seafood.
Interesting Tamales Industry Statistics
#1. Mexican food is the third-most popular type of menu that is consumed in the United States each year. Consumers spend about $39 billion at Mexican restaurants every year, including tamales, and about one-third of those revenues go toward purchasing food, beverages, and disposables. (CHD Expert)
#2. In May 2014, there were more than 54,000 Mexican restaurants that were licensed to operate in the United States. That accounts for about 8% of the total restaurant industry in the U.S., from border to border. (CHD Expert)
#3. The average Mexican restaurant earns about $700,000 in revenues on the average year. About 44% of the restaurants in this category are classified as a limited-service restaurant. The vast majority of Mexican restaurants are considered a casual dining establishment. (CHD Expert)
#4. Independent restaurants dominate the landscape of Mexican cuisine in the United States. About 3 out of every 4 restaurants in this category are independently owned. (CHD Expert)
#5. Tamales Industry is a restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa that specializes in different tamales. Each is handmade, following traditional methods, and a dozen tamales can be ordered with just a 24-hour notice. (Tamales Industry)
#6. Taco Bell is the largest chain restaurant offering Mexican food in the United States, accounting for 40% of the chain market in this category. (CHD Expert)
#7. Texas has the largest share of Mexican restaurants per capita, with 16.7% of the restaurant marketed dedicated to the cuisine. New Mexico is in second, at 14.1%. California, Arizona, and Colorado follow, with 13.8%, 13.6%, and 12.2% market shares respectively. (CHD Expert)
#8. Mexican restaurants struggle to find a foothold in Maine, accounting for just 2.6% of the restaurant industry in the state. Vermont is the second least-popular location for Mexican food, with just 2.9% of the industry. Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut follow, with 2.9%, 3.1%, and 3.6% market shares respectively. (CHD Expert)
#9. The average price for tamales can be anywhere from $7 to $19 when they are sold in a pack of 8 or 12. Some food trucks may sell single tamales at a price of $1-$3. Commercially-processed tamales generally cost less than $6 per box. (How Much Is It)
#10. The average tamale sold at a farmer’s market in the United States is about $3. When sold as a fundraising item, tamales may sell as high as $20 per dozen. (How Much Is It)
#11. The cost of a tamale is high not because of the ingredient cost, but because of the labor cost. Traditional tamales can take upwards of 6 hours, from start to finish, to make. (How Much Is It)
#12. 1 in 4 Mexican restaurants has an average check range that is between $5-$7. That is perfect for the tamales industry, which is based on grab-and-go food. (CHD Expert)
#13. From 2012-2017, the Mexican restaurant industry in the United States grew at an annual rate of 2.8%. That has generated annual revenues for the industry in the realm of $41 billion. (IBIS World)
#14. More than 900,000 people are currently employed because of the Mexican restaurant industry. (IBIS World)#15. Through 2022, the Mexican restaurants industry is expected to grow at a lower annualized rate of 2.1%, with estimated GDP growth in the same realm. That is about twice the growth that is expected from other restaurant options in the next 10-year forecast. (IBIS World)
#16. More than 233 million people in the United States say that they visited a Mexican restaurant, or they used ingredients from Mexican cuisine as part of their eating habits in 2017. (Statista)
#17. Hispanics are the largest minority in the United States, with about 43 million people counted in 2006. That equates to about 15% of the total U.S. population. 64% of the Hispanic community is Mexican. (AGMRC)
#18. Tamales tend to be a popular food option because of their low cost and portability within the Hispanic community. Hispanics spend less on food (35%) then the general population of the U.S. (42%), while also having households that are larger in size. Tamales are a way to make spending habits go further. (AGMRC)
#19. There are more than 500 different tamales that can be made as part of the industry. Each tamale option has several hundred, if not several thousand, recipe variations that can be followed. (Loco Gringo)
#20. Most recipes that are used to make tamales require families to make hundreds of them at the same time. At the very least, a few dozen must be made, which is why the cost of the tamales is somewhat consistent. (Loco Gringo)
#21. The average tamale offers a serving of about 186g. That means each serving offers about 280 calories. They are a food that is high in protein, as well as being high in sodium. Eating 3 traditional tamales will meet the average person’s daily recommended value of salt for the day. (United States Department of Agriculture)
#22. Tamales are also high in Vitamin B-6, Magnesium, and Iron. (United States Department of Agriculture)
Tamales Industry Trends and Analysis
As long as there are people, there will be a need for food. When people get hungry, Mexican food tends to be a popular option, especially in the United States. It is growing as an option in Europe as well, though it is often called “American” food outside of North America.
More Latin food options have been absorbed into Mexican cuisine in recent years, which will only shore up the industry’s future. Expect sales to continue to rise, even in difficult economies, because tamales and other Mexican food options are affordable, nutritious, and full of flavor.
Expect high levels of popularity to continue in states that border Mexico or have high levels of Mexican immigration. Low levels of popularity will continue in the regions furthest away from Mexico. Overall, however, the industry will continue to thrive.