Recent social restrictions have resulted in ‘eating at home’ experiencing a resurgence, with many consumers turning to the kitchen to help them pass the time during lockdown.

Not only are consumers spending more time in the kitchen, but they have also become more experimental.

As such, the nation’s culinary horizons have expanded, in part due to previous travel experiences and increased awareness of food provenance.

This has led to more consumers experimenting with different cuisines, with the aim of recreating their favourite restaurant or culinary experiences from their past travels at home (Kantar).

Culinary travel is playing a central role in maintaining a sense of adventure and excitement during these unprecedented times.

A recent Hearst survey found that 22% of consumers are cooking rice more often at home and 33% have cooked a new cuisine during lockdown.

With Covid-19 still high on the agenda, consumers are continuing to err on the side of caution by recreating authentic experiences at home and channelling their inner chef.

So, understanding these trends and aiding the shopper in their culinary journey by making it easy for them to find authentic products for different cuisines, is a good way to increase customer loyalty and repeat visits.

Jonathan Calland, Head of External Affairs, at Tilda, comments: “As such it’s imperative for retailers to stock complete meal solutions for a range of popular world cuisines. Rice is extremely versatile and plays a central role in many different cuisines including Middle Eastern, Indian, Caribbean, Korean, South American and Mexican. Rice is also the perfect ingredient for a number of globally inspired eating occasions, especially in the Ready To Heat (RTH) format – with the versatility of rice making it the ideal accompaniment for a range of cuisines. As such both RTH and Dry Rice are a must stock for retailers.”

Tilda offers a wide range of products including Tilda dry rice varieties as well as Tilda Microwave Rice, Tilda Tasty Wholegrains and Tilda Kids.

With rice being such a versatile ingredient, the category can continue to benefit from expanding consumer tastes, driving greater penetration.

Tilda continues to introduce new flavours into a market aimed at consumers who are looking to experiment with taste. The brand launched another category-first to mark the unofficial countdown to the Tokyo 2021 Olympics: Limited Edition – Tilda Japanese Teriyaki. The addition to Tilda’s successful ready-to-heat range is inspired by Japan’s culinary scene and pays tribute to one of the country’s most popular cooking techniques – teriyaki.

Combining sticky jasmine rice, spring onions, carrots, water chestnuts, and an authentic teriyaki mix of soy sauce, sugar and mirin, Tilda’s new flavour brings a taste of Japan to UK consumers as a first for the category in a convenient ready-to-heat pouch. Tilda Japanese Teriyaki Limited Edition is available in most major mults as well as convenience stores and has an RRP of £1.59 (250g).

Bing-yu Lee, General Manager, Kikkoman UK, comments: “The soy sauce market has seen year on year growth quadruple since last year, up 30% with MAT sales running at £34 million. Since the pandemic growth in value terms has run at 45.63%, compared to pre-pandemic levels of 5.2%.”

Latest figures show consumers are also returning to supermarkets following the initial growth in impulse. In the last three months supermarkets are up 45% with Symbols and Independent retailers up 18% (IRI).

Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce 150ml Dispenser is the company’s best-selling SKU, up 67.7%, adding an additional £1.8million to the category (IRI).

Kikkoman is the No 1. soy sauce brand, with a 33.3% value share of the total soy sauce market (IRI). Covid has driven accelerated growth this year, with Kikkoman sales up a massive +66% v last year (IRI). If we look at pre-Covid year on year growth Kikkoman was already up +18.6% (MAT to March ’20).

“The best advice is to stick with the soy sauce brands that are guaranteed to move quickly, have a strong growth record and where there is major support behind the brand,” adds Lee.

Kikkoman is once again putting major support behind the brand over the key Chinese New Year period with a TV and VOD campaign. Carrying the strapline “Food Loves Kikkoman”, the commercial sees its sauce used in a wide range of foods from soups and salads to scrambled eggs and even a salted caramel sauce. This treatment follows the brand objective to remind consumers of Kikkoman’s versatility as an all-purpose seasoning as well as a dipping sauce. The campaign will run for 4 weeks and will be screened in 20 and 30 second formats across ITV, Channel 4 and Skymedia as well as a host of VOD and online channels.

Chinese New Year is a big date in Kikkoman’s calendar so there will be some hard-hitting promotions happening at this time as well as TV support.

“Grocery as a general rule has been a winner out of the Coronavirus crisis, with people stockpiling initially, and we have witnessed continued increased rates of sale,” says Lee. “With restrictions in place for restaurants and other foodservice venues consumers are cooking more at home and have more time to experiment with new flavours and ingredients. Online ordering has also increased due to social distancing measures.”

Jose Alves, Senior Brand Manager at Old El Paso, comments: “Before the lockdown hit, our lifestyles were getting busier and busier, which meant people were increasingly looking for simple ways to enliven mid-week meals. As a result, we saw a steady rise of shoppers entering the world food aisle.”

The need to be adventurous with at-home solutions has ramped up – mainly to replace the fun of eating out.

In fact, thirty-three per cent of households have said mealtimes have become more of an occasion during lockdown (Tesco and YouGov poll).

People have been expanding on their standard six-meal repertoire, experimenting with different flavours and cooking styles and we saw an increased appetite for using exotic flavours, spices, and pastes.

A wider awareness of global cuisine and the growing popularity of ‘fakeaways’ is seeing a desire to replicate different world food dishes at home, and this is reflected in the growth of the world foods market by +28.7% in the latest 12 weeks vs. last year.

People are looking to recreate the out of home cuisine experience indoors instead of “throwing something together” cited by 57% of consumers as the way they found themselves eating during lockdown (Hearst). “Since lockdown, we’ve gained over 1m new consumers and we’re seeing fantastic growth – +30.3% with a share of 52.4%,” adds Alves. “This is continuing to accelerate, which in turn is growing the World Food category as whole.”

Stefanie Callimanis, UK Brand Manager, Onken, comments: “Retailers are facing a smarter, more mindful and often demanding consumer today. Consumers expect more from the brands they purchase from but will do research and pay more for what they want. At Onken, we have witnessed a trend towards healthier eating due to COVID, however our consumers still want to enjoy indulgent treats that they can feel good about.”

Onken’s core range of Big Pot Yogurts including the category No. 1 seller which is Onken Mango Papaya & Passionfruit 450g and the unique Onken Natural Set Yogurt 500g are proving well-placed to meet this need.

Onken Naked is a pouch of creamy yogurt with real strawberries. It was specifically designed for On-the-Go shopper missions as no spoon is required. It’s sold through meal-deal mechanics.

With absolutely no additives or artificial flavouring, it hits less than 100kcals per pouch, is suitable for vegetarians and gluten free. Whilst many people (c25%) are now working from home, Onken Naked is a great option for those with jobs that require them to work outside the home and/or on the go, or even if you’re working from home but want to stretch your legs and pop down to your local Tesco to grab a quick lunch.

Onken has been around for over 75 years and its Mango Papaya Passion Fruit yogurt has been the best-selling flavoured Big Pot on the market ever since. The range, which includes Cherry, 0% Fat Vanilla, and 0% Fat Strawberry yogurt, all make up the top 4 flavoured big pot yogurts on the market.

Within the big pot natural yogurt category, Onken’s Natural Set 500g is one of the best performing branded yogurts.

“We’ve noticed that as consumers are eating more meals at home due to COVID, the big pot format is a key staple for most shoppers because of its versatility,” adds Callimanis. “The flavoured big pots are popular for breakfast, dessert or snacks. Natural Set is a great product for cooking, baking and making both sweet and savoury dishes, as well as for just eating on its own.”

Following the launch of brand campaign “Feed Your Inner Happiness,” which focuses on the inner happiness that Onken brings, the brand is preparing to launch lots of different activity in 2021 to bring a more standout, humorous direction into the yogurt category. From influencer activations, to catch up TV, to social media; the campaign wants to remind consumers how delicious Onken Fruited Big Pot is and all the wonderfully delicious recipes you can make using the Natural range.

“To maximise sales, retailers need to ensure they manage brands’ availability and visibility in store to make sure every shopper mission can be fulfilled,” comments Callimanis. “Understanding shopper needs – which at the moment can change quite rapidly – is also crucial. So for example, recognising that shoppers may be looking for larger pack sizes, valuing products that are versatile and seeking products that let them eat healthily but taste great.”

During the first lockdown, Onken saw a huge surge in consumers wanting larger pack sizes, like the 1kgs, as they were visiting the shops less often. Now there is a trend towards healthier eating: consumers want more options that they can feel good about putting into their bodies.

Andrey Sokirkin, brand director for cooking sauces and accompaniments at Premier Foods, comments: “As we look back over the course of the pandemic, one of the impacts we’ve seen on cooking sauces and world foods is the rising number of people preparing meals at home. Households have embraced cooking from scratch, with 39% of people claiming they will continue to do so after the pandemic. It’s important to remember that ‘cooking from scratch’ will mean different things to different households, with some turning to cooking sauces for a quick solution, and others seeking pastes that offer versatility and control.”

Premier Foods recently launched two new flavours to the Sharwood’s Easy Pastes range – Madras and Balti – to accommodate this trend and offer shoppers more opportunities to experiment at home.

During these uncertain times people have turned to branded products and Sharwood’s has seen over two million new households buying into the range since the start of lockdown.

“With more meals at home, it is inevitable that people want variety and to experiment with world foods, and we’ve seen shoppers adding more elements to their home-cooked meals to enhance the dining experience,” adds Sokirkin.

These additional elements include more side dishes and starters to go alongside the main meal, such as the Sharwood’s Tarka Daal, Bombay potato and Onion bhaji & mint raita dip products.

Food kits – such as the Sharwood’s Street Food range – have grown in popularity as consumers are looking to experiment with new flavours and cuisines. Kits gives shoppers a great opportunity to try new flavours, as they contain the right amount of the key ingredients in a single product, enabling quick and easy preparation.

“Beyond the desire to get more involved in the kitchen and try new flavours, consumers are becoming increasingly driven by the health credentials of their products,” says Sokirkin. “This could either be seeking the absence or reduction of an ingredient they don’t want, such as salt or sugar, or the enhanced level of something they do, like protein or iron.”

For example, as the trend towards plant-based consumption and flexitarian diets continues, consumers are no longer just demanding products that are meat free, but are instead looking for alternatives that have good levels of protein that can replace the levels lost by reducing meat consumption.

It was on that insight that Premier Foods developed the Loyd Grossman Healthy Inspirations range. Containing Italian cooking sauces with added pulses – such as quinoa and lentils – the products provide a meal centre in themselves that is a source of protein and contributes towards the consumers’ five daily portions of fruit and vegetables.

To keep up with the demand for varied options, Sharwood’s has recently introduced reduced sugar versions of some of its most popular stir fry sauces. Aiming to appeal to health-conscious consumers, the three-strong range comprises Sweet & Sour, Sweet Chilli & Garlic and Chow Mein, now with 30% less sugar than the category average.

The move follows the success of the reduced sugar Sweet & Sour sauce, which is available in a glass jar and continues to grow at +92.2% (IRI).

The new range is rolling out in a two-person sachet format, unlocking further stir fry occasions for smaller households.

With health now accounting for over one in four of all food and drink choices (Kantar) and stir fry products growing ahead of the total oriental category (IRI), it is the ideal time for Sharwood’s to expand with reduced sugar options. Healthier cooking sauces are also specifically seeing continued growth, attracting more shoppers and seeing them buy more often year-on-year (Kantar).

“Sharwood’s has been leading the way in offering consumers healthier alternatives to their favourite Indian and Oriental meals for some time, and our recent innovations in this area have delivered strong additional sales for our retail partners,” adds Sokirkin. “The range offers health conscious shoppers more choice in the cooking sauce aisle – while being substantially lower in sugar than the category average, they still deliver on great taste, something that Sharwood’s is well known for.”

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