Mexican cuisine, including tacos and burritos, has become increasingly popular in the UK as consumers seek out healthier forms of fast food. Photograph: Food and Drink/Rex Shutterstock
Number of Mexican restaurants across UK has risen by 71% in the last year, with chains such as Wahaca and Barburrito overtaking burger businesses.
The UK is riding a Mexican culinary wave with burrito outlets now the fastest growing type of eatery on the high street.
In the last year alone, the number of Mexican restaurants, led by brands such as Wahaca and Barburrito, has risen by 71%. The growth has even outstripped the upmarket burger phenomenon, which has seen newcomers Byron and Five Guys mount a serious challenge to McDonald’s and Burger King.
But it is the humble burrito, which translates as “little donkey” in Spanish, that is top of the fast food growth league. Over the last five years burrito chains have opened an average 57% more outlets per year compared to a 16% annual rise in posh burger joints over the same period, according to a report by property advisory firm CBRE and data company Retail Locations. Just over a third of Brits have now visited a Mexican or TexMex, making it the fourth most popular ethnic food, behind Indian, Chinese and Thai takeaways.
Birmingham-based Indian burrito chain Wrapchic, which combines influences from two of Brit’s best-loved ethnic foods, is the UK’s fastest growing restaurant chain in percentage terms, growing 900% from one to 10 outlets in the last three years according to research from Horizons, the food service analysis firm.
More established chains including former Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers’ Wahaca and its rival Barburrito have both been expanding rapidly, while the Chiquito chain of Tex-Mex restaurants is due to open nine new outlets this year. Horizons names the Tortilla Mexican Grill as the joint fourth fastest growing food chain in terms of store numbers over the past three years after it opened 13 new restaurants. Supermarket chain Tesco is also trying to get in on the trend, signing a deal with former Apprentice Tim Stillwell to open his Burrito Kitchen chain in its stores.
Peter Backman of Horizons said many of the Mexican chains were benefiting from a trend towards better quality and healthier alternatives to traditional fast foods which has also benefited chains such as sandwich chain Pret a Manger, soups to sushi outlet Abokado and Japanese-themed Wasabi.
A similar trend in the US has put the squeeze on traditional fast-food groups including McDonald’s, which saw a 2.6% drop in sales in its home market in the first three months of the year. In contrast, Chipotle Mexican Grill increased sales by 10.4% at established locations over the same quarter.
US-born posh burger chains including Five Guys and Shake Shack are now rapidly moving into the UK. But McDonald’s continues to increase sales here and already massive traditional burger chains, like McDonald’s and Burger King, continue to open new outlets. They increased their number of stores by 2% in the last three years according to the CBRE report.
Seb Howard at CBRE said: “There is still very much a place for the traditional fast-food outlets and the number of branches is still growing but many are now being influenced by the niche upmarket players and are upping their game in terms of quality and the variety they offer.”
Backman said it was not clear who burrito chains were stealing sales from in the UK. “It’s a threat but in practice there’s a question whether its grabbing business from more established operators or from independents,” he said.