The World Food Market held in London in November showed the changing tastes of Britain.

The fantastic aroma greeting visitors to Excel in London in November was a testament to the rich variety of food to be sampled at the first World Food Market. Reflecting the cultural diversity of modern Britain, about 200 suppliers exhibited in three areas: ethnic and speciality; kosher; and halal.

The exhibition has previously been held outside the UK, but a burgeoning ethnic British market persuaded the organisers that a UK exhibition was overdue. According to show director Katharine Mann: “The UK ethnic food market has grown 44% in the past six years and is worth an estimated £1.07bn. Bringing the show to the UK was a natural step.”

While ethnic groups still make up a small percentage of the UK population, they represent a significant proportion of consumers. For instance, UK Muslims are Europe’s highest spending Muslim community, accounting for £20bn (Food from Britain). And while they make up just 5% of the population they consume about 20% of all lamb and mutton produced in the UK.

One exhibitor tapping into this market is Khalid Sharif of Ummah Foods, which has recently launched a halal chocolate bar. Sharif said that he sees huge opportunities for manufacturers who realise the potential of the market, adding that his brand is “an articulation of the changing Muslim world and its culture”.

K Finlay of Forest Tree Foods, distributor of Haribo Halal, said: “Judging from the reaction of the public, we’ve no doubt about the need for these products.”

In the ethnic foods arena Taj Foods was exhibiting for only the second time in the company’s 25-year history. The firm was established after its forward-thinking owners saw a gap in the market for good frozen food aimed at ethnic families who didn’t have the time to prepare meals from scratch. The company introduced cut frozen yams for the Caribbean market and frozen vegetables for busy Indian women. Co-owner Mrs Solanki says that now it’s not just ethnic families who want this kind of food, but anyone with a taste for authentic cuisine.

She doesn’t see this popularity waning, either: “We’ve found that the taste of Europe has gone from fish and chips to curries.”

The company was launching its range of fish meals to sit alongside its frozen cut vegetables, ready meals and cassava and plantain crisps.

Helen Fisher of Rajah Foods said that she thought there was more opportunity for the c-store market but felt that space was often a problem. “But it’s such a young market in mainstream retail that there are opportunities to be had,” she said.

As Britain is home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish populations, one of the busiest parts of the exhibition was the kosher section. Here exhibitors including Tivall and Galil UK were doing busy trade, with buyers eager to attract the UK’s 300,000 Jewish consumers. Tivall was there to launch its meat-free soya-based frozen mince and chicken-style pieces.

A free education programme ran alongside the show, with speakers from Marks & Spencer, Leatherhead Food International, the UK Rice Association and Mintel. Forums were dedicated to halal in foodservice and consumer profiling, and kosher and food technology.

With a growing ethnic population in the UK it’s not surprising that by 2007 the total ethnic food market is forecast (by Keynote) to be worth about £1.86bn. Retailers and manufacturers who don’t take advantage of this growth could well find themselves left behind.