Foods from around the globe are finding favour both with shoppers looking for a taste of home and those happy to try new flavours
The popularity of world foods is growing, with sales of ethnic ingredients in the total market up 5.8% year on year and exotic dishes helping to drive 6.2% growth in the chilled ready meals market, to just over £1.5bn according to Kantar Worldpanel 52 weeks ending August 2015.
Italian food is the most preferred cuisine, says HIM, with 48% of consumers claiming to have eaten it in the month they were surveyed. Chinese and Indian followed closely behind with 41% and 40% respectively. With Italian, Chinese and Indian offerings a staple in most convenience outlets, C-Store asks retailers which up-and-coming global foods they have explored.
David Knight, who owns two Budgens stores in Hassocks and Henfield, West Sussex, introduced a range of American foods to both stores about a year ago and, by keeping his stock relevant to the season, says he is achieving good sales from it. “It does sell very well, particularly the fizzy drinks, Hershey’s and 3 Musketeers candy bars – iconic American candy. We did American canned pumpkin at Halloween for anyone big into American culture. We did a recipe for pumpkin pie and gave it out with the product.”
In the summer, extra-large American ‘mega marshmallows’ sell well for David as they appeal to campers looking for something fun to roast on the fire. At Christmas, quirky candy is most popular. “There’s Candy Crush confectionery, like the game app, which goes down a storm. It’s a novelty. We ordered lots in and sold out weeks before Christmas.”
David has about 50 lines in the range which he keeps current with the trends and seasons to maintain consumers’ interest.
Richard Inglis, who owns three franchised Co-op stores in Southampton, has also seen success with American confectionery. “The American sweets have worked well this year. I think this is because they are a novelty – you can’t get them in other stores, so they inspire the shoppers. We also have American crisps as a premium snacking solution.”
Richard also sells Polish food, which he says is more of a niche market as some of the products look different to the foods shoppers are used to seeing. “The best-sellers in my Polish range are the energy drinks and snacking products, such as Polish pretzels, as those are things people are more likely to try. Polish ranges have a lot of jarred pickles and some of it looks a bit daunting.”
Despite the hesitation on Polish foods, Richard says the demographics of his area – many students and young professionals – are a good audience for these more unusual products as they tend to be adventurous with their cooking. He adds that this could be in part thanks to the many cooking shows on TV.
Arjan Mehr, owner of two Londis stores in Aldershot, Hampshire, and one in Bracknell, Berkshire, believes speciality foods are the key to differentiating c-stores from supermarkets. After setting up a Polish foods section in his Bracknell store about two years ago, Arjan has seen sales go “from strength to strength”.
“I believe Polish food is one of the areas to look out for,” he explains. “Bracknell isn’t the most cosmopolitan place on the planet, but Polish food is working really well for us. A lot of British people are looking at Polish food because people travel and become more interested.”
Arjan classes this new 2.5 metre cabinet of products as ‘European’ rather than ‘Polish’ as there’s a “big overlap” between the food eaten by Polish people and those in neighbouring countries.
Demand goes beyond chilled and ambient foods, points out Arjan. “Polish beer has become quite strong. They are permanently on offer at four for £5. That’s a long-term low price, unlike the up-and-down offers on British beer.”
Thai food is also a world food favourite among Arjan’s customers. He puts some of the success of both down to the knowledge his suppliers and his staff provide. “We employ Thai and Polish people who are equally as good at advising us as suppliers, so they have become the consultants.”
Know your audience
Understanding demographics can help when choosing world food lines. According to IGD, Italian is most popular with under-35s, Chinese is mostly consumed by families, Indian is a favourite with Londoners, and Mexican is most popular with ABC1s.
Jag Singh, marketing manager at Tropical Sun Foods, sees consumer demand for world foods only continuing, fuelled by growth in scratch cooking.
“The customer base is rapidly expanding,” he says, “from core ethnic shoppers looking for everyday staple items, to a much wider audience who want to cook more adventurously at home. This is what has helped the category become one of the very few areas in retail food and drink that is delivering significant growth, even double-digit in some segments.
“We have seen increased sales across our core ethnic ingredients portfolio. However, there has been a fantastic uplift in our ambient range with our canned fruit and vegetables alone delivering 83% growth, with products including our Caribbean ackee and callaloo.”
Singh says many retailers are creating special areas for world food brands, while some are taking part in carnivals and festivals such as Eid and Diwali, using standout off-shelf displays, sampling, store decorations and special promotions.
He adds: “The great opportunity is the expansion of world foods from the core ethnic and foodie shopper to the much wider national audience. It can strongly be argued that world foods is no longer niche and the trend is for the category to be integrated – especially for lines that have such a mass-market appeal such as our coconut water and coconut oil, as well as hot pepper sauce and jerk seasoning. This not only makes sense from a space efficiency perspective, but also for consumer convenience.”
A taste for the tropical
Soft drinks specialist AG Barr has also seen success with its Rubicon juices in tropical flavours: mango, passion, guava, lychee, pomegranate, watermelon, guanabana, papaya and new coconut water.
AG Barr head of marketing Adrian Troy says: “Demand is growing in the UK for exotic flavours when it comes to soft drinks. Rubicon is proving extremely popular with both ethnic and mainstream shoppers.”
Its KA Caribbean drinks brand has a very loyal consumer base and is now worth £35m, claims the firm.
For retailers who are still wondering whether to take the plunge into world foods, Arjan advises them to go for it. “I would strongly advise people to dip in. You will be pleasantly surprised. If it hasn’t worked in the past, try again with a different approach. It’s all about reducing exposure to the multiples and finding a niche market to make sure you are not directly competing on price.”
Richard couldn’t agree more. “If you are going to go for it, don’t just try one product, you might as well bring in 10 lines,” he says. “The worst case is you have to reduce it and you don’t buy it again, but if you don’t try it you will never know.”
Caribbean food and drink supplier Grace Foods UK claims that the Afro-Caribbean category is worth more than £95.4m in the UK, growing at more than 4.4% year on year. Such is the popularity of Caribbean food that Caribbean Food Week (August 22-29) will be entering its fifth year and has become the UK’s biggest celebration of Caribbean food and drink.
Grace Foods UK head of marketing Nyree Chambers says: “This is an exciting time for the world cuisine sector as a growing number of consumers are seeking new and exotic flavours. Many people are using Jamaican jerk seasoning as the gateway to Caribbean food, spicing up everyday meat, fish and vegetarian meals before going on to discover the rich array of flavours that Caribbean food has to offer.”
The brand has recently introduced a range of authentic Encona sauces and marinades inspired by flavours from around the world. Available in 180g square glass jars, the range comprises Moroccan Harissa, Korean BBQ and Jamaican Jerk BBQ, all with an rrp of £1.99.
Fruit flavoured drinks are another big hit within the Caribbean market. Grace Foods has released a new flavour into its Aloe Vera drinks range and introduced two of the most popular flavours in larger pack formats. Grace Aloe Vera peach 500ml sits alongside 1.5ltr take-home packs of mango and strawberry variants.
Indian snacks make their UK debut
A brand of best-selling snack foods from India are now available in the UK. Manufactured by the Merino Group, the Vegit brand is a range of nine packaged vegetarian Indian snack mixes.
The halal-certified snack was first sold in the US as well as more than 6,000 stores across India. Despite entering a crowded market, the company says it has seen rapid year-on-year growth.
Prakash Lohia, who is spearheading the launch of Vegit in the UK, says: “We are very much looking forward to bringing the same great flavours and convenience, as well as an authentic taste of India, to the UK market.”
Flying the flag for South African foods in Kent
David Charman, of Spar Parkfoot, West Malling, Kent, has expanded his range of South African food and drink after accidentally receiving a large order of biltong which, to his surprise, flew off the shelves in a matter of days.
He says: “We weren’t sure how well it would sell at first so we started out on a sale-or-return basis. We had our first £500 delivery on a Friday and, amazingly, all of it had sold by Monday.
“It’s popular with South Africans, but also with gym-goers, many of whom use it as a protein-rich snack before and after exercising.
“The same supplier also provides us with Freshpak Rooibos tea and it just makes our South African customers so happy when they see it.”
The South African shoppers are also starting to suggest other products and David is happy to follow their advice. He finds that Castle lager sells very well.