- Consumer interest in ethnic flavors continues to grow, especially in the ready-to-eat meal and snack categories, according to research from Innova Market Insights. Ethnic flavors are being presented in different ways, such as in food trucks, that has helped to facilitate growth, FoodNavigator reported.
- Between 2013 and 2017, products that highlighted "American flavors" declined 7.2%, according to Innova. During the same time period, the growth of ethnic flavors grew 20%. Innova found four of the top fastest growing ethnic flavors had roots in cuisine from Mexico, India and Spain, as well as sriracha chili.
- Sarah Browner, Innova market analyst in food trends and innovation, said during a webinar presenting the research that there has "never been so much variety and spread in the choice of authentic cuisines from around the world."
As technology exposes more consumers to the cuisines around the world, Americans have moved from looking at exotic dishes in pictures to demanding the flavors in foods they buy online and at their local supermarkets. The market has already seen a push for diverse flavors once before when sushi, hummus, tahini and yogurt became mainstream, and now the next generation of ethnic cuisine is making its way onto shelves.
Although it can now be seen as a hot trend, ethnic cuisine is likely not just a fad. Much of this increased interest in ethnic food is driven by consumers turning to spices as they search for healthier alternatives that don’t skimp on flavor. But changing demographics are also playing a large part in this trend. Hispanic and Asian populations are growing in the U.S., and as many of these consumers are millennials who are coming to realize their full purchasing power, companies are targeting their taste preferences. According to Mintel, Hispanic foods and flavors are particularly popular among young consumers and in households with children.
It is not only populations who were raised on flavors outside of the traditional American mainstream that are increasing the breadth of their palate. As a group, millennials also are more interested in ethnic cuisine, and they're willing to pay for it. In fact, a third of people eat ethnic food at least once a week and 32% are willing to pay extra for authentic ethnic fare, according to a recent study from Technomic.
Already, companies are reaping the rewards of this willingness to pay extra for interesting flavors. According to Statista, retail sales of ethnic foods will jump from $10.9 million in 2013 to an estimated $12.5 million this year. While spicy flavors like za'atar, dukkah and labna are piquing consumer interest now, shoppers will continue pushing boundaries. Food companies are going to have to start looking to the remote corners of the world and investigating hyper-regional cuisines to continue satisfying consumers’ search for culinary exploration.
In 2016, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division released a range of international flavors for its Lay’s potato chips brand that included Brazilian Picanha, Chinese Szechuan Chicken, Greek Tzatziki, and Indian Tikka Masala. Food companies looking to expand in this space also could consider Frontera, the Mexican food company Conagra acquired two years ago. Not only did Conagra choose a fast-growing company, but by aligning with Mexican farer, the food company latched onto a rapidly expanding Hispanic population in the U.S. and catered to consumers' desire for these flavors.
Nevertheless, food manufacturers should be careful not to go too far. As more customers are looking for authentic flavors, companies should probably be careful that products don’t Americanize regional cuisines in an effort to capture a growing market segment. Nor should they introduce regional specialties that will be a shock to the American system. Instead, companies will have to strike a balance between authentic and widely palatable as they continue to bring new fare onto American plates.