Latin America’s hottest new tourism trend: Culinary branding

By Sam Chapple-Sokol and Johanna Mendelson Forman When you drink a Pisco sour do the ruins of Machu Picchu come to mind?  Or does the…
Latin America’s hottest new tourism trend: Culinary branding

In this photo taken Sept. 23, 2011, a man dressed as an agave cutter, known as a jimador, welcomes tourist at the Tequila Herradura factory in Amatitan, Mexico. The green mountain valleys surrounding Tequila are spotted with fields of blue agave, the plant that is fermented to make the drink. The vast fields and the large factories that distill the spirit have been declared a World Heritage Site, which generates local pride for a town that might otherwise be overlooked. (AP Photo/Bernardo De Niz)

By Sam Chapple-Sokol and Johanna Mendelson Forman

When you drink a Pisco sour do the ruins of Machu Picchu come to mind?  Or does the aroma of a mole poblano bring you to a leisurely dinner on a plaza in Mexico? If this happens then you are experiencing what experts are now calling culinary nation branding.

For quite some time nation branding has been a tool for countries hoping to increase trade and tourism. It can include slogans (‘Belize: Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret’); tourism campaigns (‘Why Not Chile’); and trade promotion (the work of PromPerú, e.g.).

As more and more countries become aware that the way they project themselves on the global stage can affect their bottom line, competition for tourism and trade dollars increases.

SEE ALSO: 7 World Heritage Sites in Central America

With the increase in the popularity of food tourism and passion for new food experiences, countries are realizing that they can cash in not only on their iconic sights, but also on their culinary nation brand. When a country turns its foods into a national brand that is good for business.

Culinary nation branding is part of the evolving field of culinary diplomacy which uses food and cuisine as a tool of international relations. It is no coincidence that countries like Thailand, South Korea, and the United States have started promoting themselves with their cuisine.

Some of the strongest culinary nation brands are in Latin America, Peru and Mexico have the strongest ones, but other countries are betting their kitchens on a new positive identity. That is why trade and tourism ministries are seeking out their best chefs, restaurants, and culinary traditions.

What can you do to make your food a national brand? Here are six things that can advance your campaign.

1. Use one product as a headline

One of the easiest ways to brand your country is through the promotion of a particular product. this type of linkage of a national brand can be a benefit if the food grows more popular on the global market. The best example of this is the campaign mainly by Peru with support from Bolivia to promote quinoa.

The two countries appealed to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations to declare 2013 the International Year of Quinoa with dual goals of eradicating hunger and malnutrition as well as increasing international interest in and subsequent trade of the Peruvian and Bolivian grain.

Peru has also done this with the distilled liquor Pisco, which they have promoted with the slogan, “Pisco, el licor nacional del Perú.” This is a bit of a sly dig due to a historical dispute between Peru and Chile as to who originally created the drink.

In this way branding oneself using a single product can be tricky, especially if another nation also claims it. Similar ownership disputes exist in the Mediterranean around baklava and falafel.

2. Appeal to UNESCO to recognize your cuisine

UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization has created a category to codify national cuisines as “intangible world heritage.” With its decade-old list of intangible cultural heritage, UNESCO goes beyond monuments and objects to recognize oral traditions, rituals, and other cultural heritage. A few countries have applied to include their cuisine on the list. Mexico successfully made it in 2010.

According to UNESCO, “Traditional Mexican cuisine is central to the cultural identity of the communities that practice and transmit it from generation to generation,” and its inscription “could enhance the visibility of intangible cultural heritage and promote respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.” This designation has had positive impact on Mexico’s culinary promotion since the UNESCO list certifies its global significance

3. Design a strong pavilion at the upcoming Expo2015

2015 brings the next edition of the World Expo, which will take place in Milan with the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” 147 countries and regions are set to take part in this culinary diplomacy summit meeting, each given the opportunity to display how they are engaging with food on a national level as well as in the realms of food security and food justice.

Nineteen countries fromLatin America will be represented and the possibilities for nation branding are endless: a pavilion can be used to promote a product, a chef, a culinary identity, regional cuisines, agricultural history and more. This is an unprecedented occasion for culinary nation branding, and should be utilized to its fullest by all countries involved.