In the past 15 years, however, world politics, conflict and the expansion of the EU have brought about a huge change to the pattern of immigration into the UK. According to the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), since 1991 the number of immigrants from the former Yugoslavia has tripled and the number of those from Sierra Leone, China, South Africa and Sweden has doubled, while the Caribbean community has declined.
The EU enlargement which lifted employment restrictions on 10 new member states in 2004 resulted in 230,000 work permit applications from Eastern Europe between May 2004 and August 2004 (source: Home Office). Many put the figure of migrants from these states who are working in Britain much higher as inevitably some avoid the bureaucratic but mandatory Worker Registration Scheme process.
According to the Home Office, many new work permit applications are being made in the Midlands and the South West, with the majority from Poland. The new workers are young - 82% are between the ages of 18 and 34 - and only 5% have dependants. About half maintain that they'll return to their countries of origin when the economic situation improves there.
And the trend is set to continue - the IPPR estimates that when Bulgaria and Romania join the EU in January 2007, about 41,000 Romanians and 15,000 Bulgarians may head to the UK to find work. Many UK-based businesses, including the NHS, are now actively seeking overseas workers to bolster the UK workforce.
A report by the University of Swansea has estimated that we need to increase immigration by a fifth if we are to prevent economic crisis resulting from a population decline as the UK population ages.
While most new immigrants are based in London, many are looking to work outside the traditional big cities. Towns and villages which have for years had the same settled communities are now finding themselves host to new neighbours.
A vital part of these new communities is, of course, the local shop. If run well, it will cater for its local populations better than any supermarket ever could. By stocking foods, newspapers and goods that reflect the needs of the local communities - whether established or new - retailers earn the loyalty of its customers, wherever they're from.
One such retailer is Tej Daffu, who runs a Budgens store in Tooting, South West London. He has set up an international food section in his store that sells Polish, Irish and Indian foods. "We don't go for run-of-the-mill Indian foods - it's the authentic stuff - and proper Polish products from Poland.
"We have a strong Irish community in Tooting and a strong Indian community here and in neighbouring areas. And in the past eight to 12 months, we've seen a large Polish community develop."
Tej says it was customer demand that led to him to stock the products in the first place: "We started to add the ranges when customers came in asking for products. The church opposite has a strong Irish congregation and they would come in and ask for things.
"As Musgrave Budgens Londis is an Irish-owned company, it meant we could get into Irish foods. We got into the Polish side because there is a very small Polish shop up the road and customers who shop there would then come to us. But they said that they would do all their shopping here if they could get the Polish stuff, too. They want to be able to get their Hovis, pint of milk as well as their Polish sauerkraut, all in one place rather than have to shop around. So we introduced Polish products."
Teresa Higginson, who runs The Icebox in Pocklington, Yorkshire, is from Zimbabwe and sells a wide range of South African and Zimbabwean products. She says: "I noticed an increase in the South African and Zimbabwean population in this area so we started stocking boerewors (spicy sausage), biltong (dried beef) and droewors (dried spicy sausage). Then we started to get more and more people coming in for these items and asking if we could get anything else, so we expanded to South African products such as rusks, chutneys, chocolates, spices, tinned sweetcorn, Liquifruit juices, as well as drinks in flavours you can only get in South Africa, such as Fanta Grape."
Tej's best-selling Polish products are sauerkraut and juices. Carrot & apple juice is the best-seller, followed by apple & mint and cherry & apple.
Within the Irish range, Chef's ketchup and Chef's sauce are the fastest sellers. Red lemonade, Barry's tea and Chocolate Kimberley's biscuits are also popular lines.
Seasonings such as ground cinnamon and fenugreek seeds and masalas sell well in the Indian range. Tej says: "We also sell Polish and Irish beers and ales. And we have chilled ranges as well."
Tej's strategy is to keep prices in line with everything else as far as possible but inevitably, some command a premium. All of the Polish products are very competitively priced, but the Irish items tend to cost slightly more than their UK counterparts. For example, Chef's ketchup sells
at £1.19, while the Heinz product of the same size
is 70p. Likewise, Irish marmalade is £1.48 and the standard marmalade is £1.22.
Neither Tej nor Teresa have found sourcing a particular problem. Tej says: "It's been quite easy because I buy centrally from Budgens, which has some listed Irish, Polish and Indian suppliers. We can source our own suppliers if we want but the best suppliers are with Budgens, the products come with delivery and it's all on the same bill."
More tricky to get hold of are Irish regional newspapers, for which there's a big demand. "I'm contacting some newsagents in Ireland to find out their best-selling papers and who supplies them, and hopefully I can find someone to send them over. We'll just sell them one day late‚ just like when you buy English newspapers abroad."
Teresa initially began sourcing her lines directly from South Africa but has since found a South African wholesaler in the UK. "This is much better for us because we can order smaller quantities and more often, so we're not getting so much stock going past its best-before date. Shipping products directly from South Africa meant
that it took a while for them to get here.
"To justify the cost, we had to order a whole pallet so if we didn't sell quickly enough we had to throw some out."
She says that supply of the meat products has always been relatively easy thanks to the local butcher. "We provide him with our secret family recipe and he manufactures it," says Teresa. "It's giving him extra business as well - we like to support local businesses."
Both retailers say that catering for local populations has had a positive effect on sales. Says Tej: "We're topping up every four days."
He says he plans to extend the fixture to keep up with the popularity of the foods: "At the moment, we've got one bay for Irish and Polish groceries, but the chilled products are mixed in with all our other chilled stuff. We hope to increase our chilled range and want to try to get our hands on some Polish spirits, which are not listed with the supplier. We'll have to source those ourselves."
Teresa tells a similar success story. She says that sales of South African and Zimbabwean foods at The Icebox now make up 25% of total store sales. "If we can get people into the shop they don't only buy South African products, they buy other things as well, so introducing a wider range has had a good impact on the business as a whole."
She, too, is hoping to extend the range of these foods further. "Now we have found this new supplier there's a lot more product we can get in. We're a small, friendly business so we always ask our South African and Zimbabwean customers if there's anything else they want and then we'll order it."
Both retailers say that the foods also spark interest from other shoppers. "We're finding that other customers want to try the foods as well," says Tej.
The next plan, he says, is to make sure that the whole community knows what he's offering (see 'Shout about it!' above).
Above all, says Tej, offering these foods helps him compete with the multiples: "You can go into any major supermarket and pick up Indian foods, but we have a niche with our Polish and Irish ranges."
? Estimates suggest that anywhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million South Africans live in the UK, with an estimated 400,000 of those living in London.
? One million of Australia's population lives overseas at any one time, and 800,000 of those are thought to be in London.
? Official British figures put the number of Zimbabweans living in the UK at 100,000, but
the Southern African Research Documentation Centre claims the true figure is probably nearer one million.
? According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, workers from the eight EU member states contributed about £240m to the British economy following the expansion of the EU
The Polish contingent
? Poland is one of the fastest growing populations in the UK.
? Many Poles emigrated to the UK after the Second World War, when the British government allowed 200,000 Poles to settle in Britain.
? According to the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, there are about 750,000 people with Polish connections living in the UK.
? There are 113 Polish community centres and 82 Polish Catholic parishes in the UK.
? The largest Polish library in the World outside Poland is based in Hammersmith, in the Polish Social and Cultural Centre.
? Buckwheat is a staple of Polish cooking. White cabbage, sauerkraut, zywiecka (sausage) and pork also feature a lot. Makowiec cake is the traditional Christmas cake but is served year-round.
Shout about it!
If you want to cater for particular communities in your area, it's important to let them know what you offer. Here are a few tips on how to do it:
? Look to your own store - is there any way you could change your own signage to highlight the fact that you can cater for specific communities?
? Many communities have their own centre. Ask to put up a leaflet detailing exactly what you offer. Also look for other likely venues where people congregate. And don't forget your own window.
? Look around your community and consider linking up with other businesses. Retailer Tej Daffu says: "We've just had a sign changed outside to say that we stock these ranges and there's a couple of Irish pubs nearby, which we hope to do some cross-promotions with."
? There are lots of magazines catering for specific communities. Consider approaching them with a press release or take out an advert in them. Some examples are:
Fusion Magazine: a free magazine for central and eastern Europeans in the UK.
Dziennik Polski - The Polish Daily: the only Polish language newspaper published in Western Europe, with an estimated readership of 10,000.
Polish Express: a weekly Polish language paper for the Polish community living in the UK.
? If you really want to go the extra mile you could consider translating signage or adverts into another language - maybe with the help of your customers. An advert in Polish in your local newspaper, for example will really stand out and catch the eye of potential customers.EU Member StateS
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