Well-travelled Millennials are helping to keep world food sales buoyant as they search out different flavours and meals that are easy to prepare

Given that the UK is such a diverse and culturally rich country, it’s no surprise that the average retailer is used to stacking their shelves with global cuisines. Close to nine out of 10 people eat ethnic foods regularly at home, with foods once seen as exotic appearing on more dinner tables than ever before (Mintel, 2017).

Emma Macdonald, founder of The Bay Tree, believes world foods are such a big part of British life that retailers can find all the exotic products they need, without looking overseas. “Retailers can look to UK producers to satisfy consumer appetites for world foods,” she asserts. “Suppliers are constantly innovating to bring together global cuisines, with a British twist.”

At Rootes Grocery Store at Warwick University, a large international student population means the world foods section is well shopped. Manager Fabio Finocchiaro says: “The Oriental market seems to perform best, with noodle pots from Korea, meal kits from China and sushi from Japan selling really well. The category is helped by students wanting a convenient meal as well as a taste of home.”

Fabio reveals that Warwick University welcomes more than 27,000 students to its campus every year and 40% are from overseas. As a result, the store works closely with the university’s international office to make sure its products are suited to the ethnic make-up.

World foods make up 14% of sales, with turnover of £20k per week, Fabio says. Rootes dedicates two full aisles to Oriental food, decorating them with Chinese lamps and banners.

“We have promotional ends dedicated to Oriental food offers, together with dump bins and three butcher-style rustic tables where we display seasonal and speciality products and freshly-baked Chinese buns and brioches delivered to us three times a week straight from Caffe Chino in Birmingham,” Fabio says.

The store also gets a significant amount of its international range from Wing Yip, the Chinese wholesaler. Says Fabio: “We work with Wing Yip directly, rather than going through a middle man, that way we have more control over our deliveries.”

Dimitris Krikonis, brand manager for Empire Bespoke Foods, believes it’s the young consumers who are helping to drive the world foods market. “Millennials are the target market that will keep contributing to the world foods category growth. Their purchasing power will soon equal Baby Boomers, with the majority of young consumers travelling to experience new cultures and discovering authentic local flavours and recipes. Therefore, retailers can keep benefiting from the rise in global cuisine by providing and promoting ranges that cover Millennials’ preferences.”

Dimitris argues that Millennials are looking for easy-to-prepare meal kits that also have nutritional benefits, as they have a limited amount of time for cooking.

He adds: “Retailers can keep offering exciting and new foods by continually updating their range to match current trends, or even by keeping an eye on the most popular travel destinations. Identifying suppliers that can provide authentic and high-quality products can also lead to success.”

Consumer demand for bolder and more unusual food combinations is driving the popularity of world flavours in snacks, according to Debbie King, director of commercial sales marketing at Indian snacks provider Cofresh. “The Millennials, and their increasingly sophisticated palates driven by international travel, are inspired by food from around the world,” she says.

“What were once exotic and unfamiliar flavours are now ubiquitous and widely accepted, and this is reflected in the phenomenal growth of the world snacks category.”

Harris Aslam, owner of seven Nisa-associated stores in Scotland, thinks world food sales are doing well because the category can create a point of difference for c-store owners. “It’s important that retailers offer exclusive products to stand out in a competitive market. There is a real opportunity to encourage repeat custom and get customers to buy exotic foods more regularly,” he says.

“We separate the range according to cuisine. Italian is the biggest for us, followed by Mexican, Chinese and Indian. We want to create that linked purchase and as a result the world foods basket spend tends to be quite high compared with lots of other categories.”

Thai curry kits make it simple for consumers

Thai Taste has added to its easy-to-prepare Thai food kits.

Easy Thai Yellow Curry kits join the existing Easy Thai Red Curry, Thai Green Curry and Pad Thai kits (rrp £2.49 per pack), and go from pack to plate in 15 minutes. All shoppers need to do is add meat, fish, tofu or vegetables.

The Easy Thai Yellow Curry kit range originates from southern Thailand and contains yellow curry paste, coconut milk and Thai spices. The pack is portion controlled and individually wrapped.

The company describes its meal kits as perfect for individuals who are less confident in the kitchen, or who are looking for a quick, convenient meal.

Also new is a Vegetarian Fish Sauce (rrp £1.89). The vegetarian and vegan-friendly fish sauce is made from seaweed, and is aimed at those who are looking for a natural product that is rich in vitamins and minerals. The sauce contains only natural ingredients and is gluten-free.

Thai Taste marketing manager Jodie Cavaye says: “Health is now the key driver for 27% of all consumption occasions. In addition to new flavour variants, Thai Taste’s npd taps into the trend for healthier lifestyles, to bring incremental growth to the category.”

Look out for innovation

Rav Garcha, owner of three Nisa stores in the West Midlands, says it is the big four cuisines that are driving growth in the world foods category in his stores. “Italian, Indian, Mexican and Oriental foods remain the most popular among our shoppers,” he says.

Rav reports that npd is helping his sales; he started stocking Symington’s Naked Noodles a few months ago and the range has performed strongly, appealing most to health-conscious consumers.

“The range is better quality than our other noodles,” Rav points out. “It also helps that they are less calorific and healthier, too. Those shoppers who are on Weight Watchers or Slimming World really like them.”

Rav has found that world foods also fit the bill for those shoppers looking to try something different without having to splash out too much. “People want that bit more exploration with their food, but without breaking the bank. That’s why world foods is helping sales in frozen and chilled ready meals.”

Fabio has noticed strong sales of frozen Oriental food, which has grown by 20% in the past 18 months at his university store. “The range available to us is immense, and lately the addition of artisan ice cream from China has proven to be a winner,” he says.

For those shoppers after an easy-to-create meal, Mexican is the solution, according to Lindsay Hill, marketing manager for Old El Paso at General Mills UK. She says: “Mexican food provides the perfect way to create a sociable, sharing mealtime experience. Nachos, fajitas and tacos all boast easy preparation and informal ‘hands-on’ dining, creating the perfect recipe for a fun and social occasion.

“Mexican cuisine continues to be popular, with household penetration doubling over the past 10 years. Out-of-home consumption of Mexican cuisine has also increased significantly, further fuelling the consumer desire to recreate the Mexican experience in home.”

Adam Reader, managing director for Grace Foods UK, the leading supplier of Caribbean food and drink, has full confidence that the success of world food will continue.

“This is an exciting time for the world cuisine sector, with growing numbers of consumers expanding their taste horizons and seeking new and exotic flavours,” he says.

He adds that growth in the Afro-Caribbean category, which is worth more than £96m in the UK (IRI UK Caribbean Food & Drink Retail Sales, December 2017) mirrors the increased interest in world cuisine.

A taste of Mexico from Old El Paso

Old El Paso is the largest branded player in Mexican food, with a 58% market share (Nielsen). The brand’s success has been driven by consumer appetite for Mexican food as well as successful npd such as its Stand ‘n’ Stuff soft taco range, launched in 2017.

The range is designed to appeal to retailers looking to wow shoppers with experimental food, while also reassuring them with a trusted name, and is now worth £11m (Nielsen).Lindsay Hill, marketing manager for Old El Paso at General Mills UK, says: “The way consumers eat has changed, meaning the way food is served and presented is naturally adapting to meet changing demand. Consumers want food to be both handy for when they’re on-the-go, but customisable to suit their culinary mood, dietary need or personal preference. With its roots in street food, Mexican cuisine just happens to offer lots of solutions for today’s busy consumer – from rolls, to wraps and sandwiches. It also features lots of contrasting ingredients to appeal to all palates and enable consumers to have fun and really get creative with personalised combinations.”

The Stand ‘n’ Stuff range comprises two variants: Smoky BBQ; and Extra Mild Super Tasty (rrp £3.79). Each pack contains eight flour tortillas, seasoning mix and salsa, with a separate eight-pack of tortilla shells (rrp £1.89) also available.

Standout success

Hill believes that as world foods are bought on impulse, clear in-store visibility can help to drive sales. “Retailers should first understand what type of shopper is coming through their door,” she asserts, “both in terms of mission and types of occasion. For example, meal kits help to deliver against convenience and the Big Night In solution.”

Cofresh is working with retailers to help drive sales growth at key seasonal or religious periods such as Eid, Diwali and Christmas. However, King stresses that other year-round selling opportunities such as televised sporting events, the rise of the Big Night In and the snacking habits of the Netflix generation should not be overlooked.

She adds: “Driving customers to the fixture is critical, so make sure the top-selling products are in the right locations, employ good in-store visibility of the best-sellers and maximise the opportunities that home snacking offers by using POS material, off-shelf displays and rack-end promotions.

“Stock as broad a range of products and flavours as possible, and position them prominently to ensure they stimulate spontaneous or last-minute purchases.”