“Authenticity appears as more of a value-add than a requirement for purchase of products used in home ethnic food preparation. While nearly half (47%) of ethnic food consumers say they are willing to spend more on authentic ethnic/international food, only one quarter say authenticity claims are a leading factor in their purchase decision.” – Beth Bloom, Food and Drink Analyst
This report looks at the following areas:
- How can the industry encourage the preparation of ethnic food at home?
- How can packaged food providers appeal to scratch cooks?
- How important is authenticity?
Shifting US demographics and a growing interest in flavor variety will contribute to continued growth of ethnic food sales. Consumer interest in ethnic food for flavor variety more than for cultural exploration can be seen. Some 59% of respondents to Mintel’s custom survey who eat ethnic food prepared at home say they eat it to try new flavors, not because they’re particularly interested in the culture represented by the cuisine. As international dishes become more familiar, ethnic offerings may be viewed simply as flavor alternatives, tantamount to cheese, ranch, or onion, for example, instead of as unique regional experiences.
Authenticity appears as more of a value-add than a requirement for purchase of products used in home ethnic food preparation. The industry can push the boundaries here, and introduce products that feature more complex, regionally specific options. Brands can highlight ethnic authenticity as a means of standing apart from value offerings, similar to the way artisan, handcrafted, and heritage products are growing in popularity across general food and drink categories. While ethnic food has a wide appeal, encouraging consumers to use ethnic food products at home is a slightly tougher challenge.
A large 92% of consumers have eaten some form of the ethnic offerings measured in this report in the past three months (whether at home or from a restaurant), indicating an interested consumer base. However, the percentage of consumers who prepare these items at home is somewhat smaller (74%). Keeping these products top of mind to shoppers, and infusing consumers with the confidence that they can easily and affordably prepare these dishes at home, will be key to maintaining a strong pace of sales growth.
The definition of the ethnic food market is a gray area in the food industry. While supermarkets traditionally merchandise ethnic food in “international” aisles, additional products throughout stores often have either ethnic/cultural origins outside of the US (eg tortillas), or are based loosely on ethnic food products (eg wasabi, teriyaki-flavored salad dressing). These additional items may be considered ethnic by some in the food industry, but not by others.
For the purposes of this report, Mintel has focused on a combination of two distinct sets of products in defining the size of the ethnic food market:
- Food categories explicitly defined by Information Resources, Inc. as “Mexican” and “Asian.” Includes product categories such as salsa, taco sauce, refried beans, soy sauce, noodles, etc.
- A custom universe of specific products within selected IRI categories (such as frozen dinners, dry packaged dinners, dips, seasoning mixes, etc) that have been identified by Mintel as fitting into one of the ethnic food segments covered by this report. These products were identified based on brand-level data. Some categories, such as ramen, frozen tortillas, and sauerkraut, were entirely classified as “ethnic.”
For broad categories such as frozen dinners, the brand data available are single values that do not differentiate between different products. We cannot separate out items such as frozen enchilada meals or Asian stir-fry dinners from non-ethnic meals.
This may result in some underestimation of those categories. This report does not attempt to cover all ethnic food or all cultural cuisines across all food and beverage categories.
In some cases, food categories were left out because they are either fully discussed in other recent Mintel reports, and/or Mintel believes these categories or cuisines are so common to the typical American diet as to render them no longer truly ethnic food (eg Italian food).