ETHNIC FOOD & DRINK – An expanding universe of flavours

Ethnic Food & Drink is a fast moving part of the typical UK supermarket or Co-op, with the World Food section firmly established as a ‘must-go’ destination for increasing numbers of ‘Brit’ shoppers as well as consumers from ethnic communities. But that’s far too dry a description of what’s happening. World Food is slowly but surely transforming the way Brits cook and eat and think about food, and the sheer diversity of fare on offer is mindboggling.

chazYou don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out why. First of all, over the decades urban Britain has been home to incoming populations from different parts of the world, bringing with them their traditions and their cuisines. In the early days of each new population arriving here, small grocers spring up in the incomers’ local communities to supply the food and drink they know and love from home. From there, as time passes and populations establish themselves here, these incomers come to expect to find their cuisines in their local supermarkets, and the supermarkets are happy to oblige, knowing it’s good business.

At the same time these incomers also open restaurants that win over the indigenous Brits, and the food they serve gradually finds its way onto supermarket shelves and into mainstream consumers’ kitchens nationwide. Add to this an army of TV chefs and cookery writers with screen time and books they need to fill with fresh, exciting recipes based on previously unfamiliar ingredients, and we have more and more mainstream shoppers heading for the World Food aisles and importantly feeling comfortable shopping there.

Ethnic food and drink is the province of household name UK-based suppliers with a wealth of knowledge and credentials for authenticity, like Grace Foods and Geeta’s. They are joined on the World Foods shelves by a myriad of specialist importers offering exotic cooking ingredients and spices from the Caribbean, India, China and elsewhere straight to our supermarkets, Co-ops and convenience store chains.

The fluid nature of this market means there’s always room for innovation, and retail buyers are happy to encourage suppliers large and small with a promising proposition. Anecdotally, the founder of a leading own-label Indian ready meals supplier to the supermarket chains originally started making samosas at home in the 1970s because she couldn’t find Asian food in her local supermarket that she thought was good enough for her family. She started making her samosas and her friends and family  encouraged her to think about selling them commercially. One day she presented her wares to a major retailer, who to her amazement welcomed her products with open arms, and from there her business grew and grew – just like the ethnic food and drink market itself. To be continued…