ETHNIC FOOD & DRINK – As long as the spice is right

Ethnic Food and Drink is one of the most exciting and fascinating markets in the UK grocery industry and is in a constant state of flux, with new tastes and flavours coming from all directions. As each new incoming population arrives, they bring their food and drink. As they settle canny importers and wholesalers come on the scene to bring in the food and drink, and the key products find their way onto retail shelves, to begin with in convenience stores serving the newcomers in their local communities. But the really big money comes when ethnic food and drink products go into supermarkets. Then the debate for the retailers is whether to put them in their respective grocery sections, or merchandise them as world foods by country or region.

The UK’s most popular cuisine is currently Chinese, with Indian coming second. In sales volume in the retail sector, ‘Indian’ products are far ahead of ‘Chinese’, so much so that you might ask whether ‘Indian’ still counts as ethnic now it’s a staple in the average Brit’s diet. That said, the fact remains that between the two of them Indian and Chinese make up two thirds of ethnic food sales.

Eating out has made Mexican, Thai and Caribbean popular tastes among Brits in retail in recent years, but these are of course Anglicised versions. World travel is another major influence on ethnic food purchases, with the more adventurous globetrotters coming back from trips abroad wanting to recreate the memories of their trips. Sauces from holiday destinations from Mexico to Malaysia are now available here, supplied by household name suppliers. The question is whether the consumer will buy ethnic food if it comes from a US or European multinational, or do they only want the real thing?

Mintel predicts that the UK retail market for ethnic foods will break the £1.5 billion barrier by 2013. However, its latest research shows that sales of ready meals based on restaurant and takeaway favourites have declined, while the value of accompaniments and sauces has increased, suggesting more of us are choosing to cook Chinese, Indian and other ethnic foods ourselves and looking for more authentic products.

Cooking sauces and accompaniments/seasonings are the main beneficiaries, assisted by the wider trend towards scratch cooking. And speaking of sauces, don’t forget the growing number of Brits who like a taste of Caribbean pepper sauce on their bacon butties, and for whom Encona West Indian Original Hot Pepper Sauces is a must-buy.

Finally, as well as saving money in these tough times, greater awareness about healthy eating and a desire to adapt meals to personal taste are heating up the trend to more ethnic home cooking. Thanks to Jamie, Nigella and the gang consumers of all ages have increasing confidence about shopping and cooking boldly, giving their meals a global flavour. It’s all good news for the ethnic food and drink suppliers.

The Grocery Trader