If we can’t have world peace, we can always have a piece of the world’s food! British consumers are better placed now than at any time in history to enjoy a selection of foods from around the world in their local supermarket or Co-op.
The classic narrative is that incoming populations arrive here and start importing their home food and drink. People from these groups open restaurants in their communities, which are discovered by adventurous members of the native population, and after these foods become popular in catering they find their way into mainstream retail.
Indian and Chinese restaurants have been with us since the Empire, and their food passed into the culinary mainstream long ago. Similarly, European restaurants have been here since the last century and cookery writers have been introducing us to the foods of the Mediterranean since the 1950s. More recently, with foreign travel accessible to everyone who has a credit card, consumers no longer view food from the Continent and further afield with suspicion, and the familiarisation process accelerates further as celebrity chefs and TV cooks add their interpretations of foreign dishes to their recipe collections.
From there it’s a natural step for enterprising individuals to go into business producing particular foods from their native cuisines and start supplying them to mainstream grocery retailers. The end result is that these days we have access to a host of world foods, much of it manufactured here in the UK to authentic recipes by people who are to all intents and purposes British, but with roots elsewhere.
For the retailer there remains the ongoing question of where you put world food in store to best effect. It ultimately depends just how far the products have passed into the mainstream, and hence where the consumer expects to find them. With Halal and Kosher and other clearly recognisable cultures, the obvious route is to present them in a dedicated world foods section, and be mindful of any sensitivities.
The make up of the UK population is constantly changing. In recent years Polish food was making the running. With the refugee crisis, perhaps retailers should prepare for Syrian food to be the next big thing, once Nigella and colleagues start telling us about vine leaves, fatah, kebab halabi and mahshi. Over and above that, multiple retailers should be aware of the different people in their branches’ local communities and the need to please them, and keep an open mind about sourcing and stocking food for these shoppers in their local stores as part of their offering.