Britain’s insatiable appetite for ethnic cuisine is unabated and the grocery trade is scrambling to keep ahead and find new and wonderful ways to draw us to the next big thing, whilst satisfying the demand from the UK’s growing ethnic communities. World Food continues to be as hot as a scotch bonnet chilli whether it’s the new trend for street food, raw ingredients or Turkish to Thai. Let’s face it World Food is massive and reaches every corner of British life. Undoubtedly Tesco and Asda were the first to get on board but the others are following suit. Realising this burgeoning market can’t be ignored, but whether they are going to stay ahead is a question of how well they market the offering to both the mainstream and the ethnic minority shopper. The problem for the large mainstream grocer is bridging the requirements of ethnic shoppers and the mainstream alike.
The major multiples and specialist independents often achieve double digit growth and are keen to see it continue, drawing in mainstream shoppers but increasingly important are the ethnic communities that these stores set out to serve. How easy is it going to be for mainstream multiples with the advent of the all singing, all dancing ethnic supermarkets? These new enterprises offer great value, a superb selection of fresh ingredients, ample parking, bespoke merchandising and the opportunity to offer the entire weekly shop under one roof. Stores such as Pak Supermarkets and Yours, service the Asian, Turkish, African, Caribbean, Eastern European communities as well as mainstream foodies who are looking to truly explore greater authenticity in world food. These multiple ethnic supermarkets pose a problem for mainstream supermarkets as well as the ethnic independents. Moving forward they can outdo the competition on price as well as the array of products on offer, whilst offering quality and a shopping experience that appeals. The multiple mainstream supermarkets may have missed a bit of a trick here by not opening their own smaller stores that cater for the ever-increasing ethnic market. In urban conurbations ethnic minorities are set to make up more than 50% of the population in less than 15 years time so the need is only set to grow.
If the mainstream can’t compete on scale they need to compete on merchandising, price promotions and effective marketing. Most of the mainstream supermarkets only seem to dip their toe into ethnic marketing around key festivals and this is often done in a very mainstream fashion. In addition the merchandising is limited to a “World Food ceiling hanger” and then a few bus stop signs demarking food from different ethnicity to a greater or lesser degree. Hardly inspirational or attention grabbing! Ethnic food and drink is vast in the UK the IPA’s latest research says “Ethnic food is a growing market in the UK and accounts for more than half of the market share in Europe.” So shouldn’t our supermarkets begin putting budget in this direction?
This growth is not only attributed to ethnic minority shoppers but mainstream consumers also. Thai Green Curry seemed the height of culinary daring ten years ago, today it’s now common place. Britons today are consuming more Japanese, Thai and Chinese foods. In fact Chinese Stir Fry has knocked Chicken Tikka Massala off the number one spot as Britain’s favourite dish. This means that shoppers look for greater authenticity. We are purchasing more spices and ingredients, sales of ethnic raw ingredients are up by nearly 14% in terms of value. Six out of the top 10 meals cooked at home are “world recipes”. As a result sales for those recently initiated are up such as curry pastes, the plethora of food kits that are taking the market by storm, or spice packs from the likes of Shan that were definitely stuck in the independent sector until recently. Shan are now even in Waitrose. There is also a huge growth in the popularity of Tex Mex with Tortillas being the biggest world food ingredient, selling a staggering £83million worth. It’s not surprising then that Tesco doubled its World Food range in 2010 and that Asda devotes 20% of its shelf space to ethnic lines. Stores like Morrisons are in line to follow especially having hired Noor Ali as their ethnic food buyer. Noor was instrumental in getting Asda’s ethnic range up and running and knows her mooli from her dudhi and her suer kraut from her jerk.
The mainstream supermarkets can never compete on breadth of product range so they really need to ensure the merchandising is effective. This seems to be on the slide with some of them. As they expand the number of World Food aisles it is danger of all becoming a little jumbled. I can’t help feeling that in some cases the merchandising and the layout is becoming a bit of a biryani. There are now a myriad of sub sections meaning shopping can become a tad confused. Initially the World Food aisles were set up to appeal to Britain’s ethnic shopper, but as the mainstream are constantly looking for greater authenticity it is no surprise the two should cross over. The big four supermarkets need to act as a bridge, supplying products to the newly initiated in terms of World Food as well as the foodies and food curious mainstream who as ever are influenced by TV Chefs, restaurants and foreign travel.
It seems we are yet to tire of spicy flavours and exotic fare and I predict trends will be in greater authenticity and regional flavours from a whole host of countries. I think Middle Eastern, North African, Lebanese, Tunisian and Iranian cuisines will grow in popularity as more and more restaurants open across the country. There is also massive potential for food-to-go and snack options with an ethnic flavour such as Cofresh. It is my personal belief that the multiples are going to need to pay some serious attention to their ethnic food aisles if the want to keep apace and continue to grow at the rate they should. Items need to be merchandised in a more cohesive fashion. The market is growing fast but it could grow faster if supermarkets looked more to the customer, allowing them to pick up all they need in the same or adjoining aisles and doing promotions that complement people’s needs. It would also be good if supermarkets started to build a calendar of marketing for ethnic cuisine and not just centre this round key festivals. We all shop and buy ethnic food all year round. With their current approach it would be a bit like only marketing at Christmas for mainstream. I think the specialist ethnic supermarkets are only set to grow in prominence, borne out by the grand opening of the huge Yours Supermarket in Leicester. Maybe other ethnic enterprises, spotting the gap in the market will be arriving soon!