With more than 200 different countries looking to hop, skip, or jump their way to Olympic glory on UK shores this summer, there really will be no better time for convenience store retailers to score some winning world food sales, and build meaningful community links at the same time.

With its riot of flavours, textures and colours, the category lends itself perfectly to eye-catching displays and themed promotional days or weeks. Why not make it Tikka Tuesday, Wrap Wednesday or Stir-Friday? If you aren’t already you could even get your local school involved and teach the kids a thing or two about different countries and their flavours via healthy vegetable-packed meal suggestions.

“However you look at it, August will have a global flavour,” says Wendy Wing, customer marketing manager for Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s. “As Strictly Come Dancing did for dancing lessons in Britain, the eagerly awaited sporting event is also likely to raise awareness of the importance of health and exercise. With the global theme of the Olympics, c-stores have an opportunity to create excitement around the world foods category, and by stocking products that are made with all natural ingredients, they can also tap into the interest in health arising from the event.”

She’s thinking, of course, about Dolmio, which is the middle of a £1m 100% Natural campaign, highlighting the brand’s totally natural credentials.
The Olympics won’t just present you with a chance to up sales of world foods for evening meals, however. What about offering Balti baguettes at lunchtime?

“World food is undeniably a growing area - and especially in the fresh deli section of local stores,” adds Deborah Carter, senior consultant at Dragon Rouge. “There are now many more Greek and middle Eastern snacks and salads, Indian accompaniments and Polish and Bulgarian specialities,” she adds.

Grains of Truth


Rice’s status as a cheap, filling, healthy and tasty accompaniment to many ethnic dishes has made it a star performer for convenience stores. And the good news is that thanks to its availability in ultra-convenient, portion perfect microwavable sachets, its popularity has surged higher. According to Mintel’s Pasta, Rice and Noodles report from March 2011, the rice category has grown 41.2% since 2007, becoming the fastest growing category in terms of retail sales of carbohydrate-based meals.
The rise in consumption is helped by trends towards healthy eating, with many tucking into rice as a healthy alternative to more traditional carbohydrates.
Says Wendy Wing, customer marketing manager for Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s: “Mintel research tells us that a quarter of consumers are eating more rice than they did a year ago, while meals eaten with rice have risen by a third.”
In a bid to boost sales of Uncle Ben’s Express Rice, a new TV ad is playing out on TV screens across the UK, showcasing the ingredients that go into Express Rice. This is being linked with an outdoor and poster campaign.
Birds Eye is also hoping for a bigger slice of the market thanks to its Rice Fusions range and in particular its Pilau Rice Fusions with Peas and Spinach which can be microwaved from the freezer.
And just when you thought rice couldn’t get any nicer, Tilda has launched Tilda Stir Fry classic stir-fry rice in Thai Red, Thai Green, Peking and Kung Po flavours.

But even without the Games, sales of world foods are growing year on year, spurred on by the well-travelled ‘gap year generation’, the increasing ethnic population, and the smorgasbord of celebrity cookery programmes.
“All these mean that people are much more willing to experiment and try new dishes at home, especially as the economic situation means they’re less able to eat out,” says Carter.

“Consumers’ interest in world foods is encouraging news for convenience stores looking to invest in the category in 2012, especially when a quarter of UK consumers say they have cut back on takeaways and home deliveries to save money, and are looking for cost-effective, convenient ways to recreate the experience at home,” adds Wing.

With Brits spending an average of just 30 minutes preparing dinner each evening, products which help them to prepare it quickly are most in demand. It’s a fact which is seeing a boom in both the cooking sauces and kit market. In fact, the cooking sauces segment is forecast to see growth of 23% between 2011 and 2016, with Mintel expecting the market to reach £751m by 2016.

“Four in five consumers see cooking sauces as an easy way of trying a new cuisine without it being too challenging,” adds Wing.
Within ambient cooking sauces, the Italian wet cooking sauces segment is strongest and currently worth £12.7m within independent retail, according to Mars Retail. Indian cooking sauces are in second place with a value of £3.4m, and Chinese at £2.2m.

However, the biggest developments within the world foods category so far this year have taken place within the meal kits segment. Offering busy couples and families a convenient, quick and cost-effective way of making a relatively healthy and tasty dinner, it’s no surprise that these boxed bites are soaring in popularity.

Much of the credit for 2011’s growth figures can be attributed to General Mills’ Old El Paso brand and its new Extra Mild, Super Tasty fajita dinner kit and Enchilada kit. According to General Mills, the launch outperformed all ethnic NPD in 2010/11, achieving sales of £2.6m in the 12 months to April 16, 2011 as shoppers, and particularly families with young children, warmed to its milder taste.
And thanks to another mega launch featuring wraps - six new Sharwood’s Wrap Kits in Indian and Chinese flavours - the category looks set for further success.

According to Premier Foods, the new range held strong consumer appeal in both pre- and post-tasting tests which, combined with advertising and in-store marketing, should “make the launch highly successful”.

In the hot spot

Chicken Jalfrezi

After years of basking in the glow of being the nation’s favourite dish, tikka masala has been kicked off the top spot by jalfrezi, a poll by The Curry Club’s Chaat! magazine recently found.
The growth in foreign travel and explosion of TV cookery programmes has made British taste buds bloom and, as such, jalfrezi is now the most popular choice in Britain’s 10,000 Indian restaurants, closely followed by madras, then rogan josh, while chicken tikka masala falls to a lowly eighth place.
To satisfy spicier tastes, Patak’s launched a Hot & Spicy range of sauces last year in three variants: hot Tikka Masala; extra-hot Vindaloo; and extra, extra hot Phal.
However, Premier Foods category strategy manager for Grocery, Claire Green, says that although we are seeing spice levels in restaurants increasing, this hasn’t been reflected within shopping habits. She adds: “This is because typically the meal occasion is catering for a group of people, so there needs to be a ‘safer’ option that pleases different palettes.”
Dragon Rouge’s Deborah Carter predicts the arrival of traditional lines with an exotic twist in 2012, with products such as coconut, limeflower or lemongrass.
Reacting to this trend, Sharwood’s has created a range of four new Tikka Sauces that appeal to the whole family. Extra Mild, Extra Creamy, Extra Onions, and a special-edition Green Label Mango Chutney flavour are available now.

Sharwood’s marketing controller Kelly Davis says: “By expanding wrap meal kits into the popular Indian and Chinese sectors this launch is set to deliver significant incremental sales for retailers.

“For consumers who have reduced eating out of home, meal kits lend themselves to in-home entertaining and give consumers the chance to be creative and turn their hand to a simple form of scratch cooking.”

Hot on Premier Foods’ heels is Discovery Foods, which has launched four new Perfect Mexican Meal kits. The launch, Discovery Foods claims, transports the meal kits segment to another level, by featuring ready-rolled tortillas.

The launch builds on the success of Discovery’s previous Fajita and Enchilada Kits, says marketing manager Craig Sammells. “New product development is key to helping drive consumer buy-in to the meal kit market and there is a massive opportunity to bring something new, eye-catching and exciting to the fixture. With tortillas so soft we can roll them, Discovery is in the ideal position to launch the Perfect Fajita Kit and help stimulate category growth,” he points out.

The other good thing about meal kits for retailers is the fact that they require cross-category purchasing.

The Discovery Foods Fajita Kits include soft flour tortillas, salsa and seasoning mix, but shoppers also need to purchase chicken breasts, peppers and condiments such as sour cream and guacamole before they can begin munching.

If you have the space, try adding a few onions to your ambient world foods display, or locate herbs and spice mixes next to chilled meats, as Jason Tamplin does in his Budgens store in Wells, Somerset.

The inclusion of some key fresh ethnic goods in your chiller aisles can also help. Take note of Arla Foods’ new Savera range of goods including Natural Dahi and Traditional Paneer cheese. Arla Foods is particularly proud of its Paneer cheese, which comes in cases of 6x225g and can be used as a nutritious meat substitute, or to make a tasty accompaniment to curries and salads.

Crossing continents

While on the subject of cross-category merchandising, it’s worth mentioning those liquid lines, and particularly world beers.

“We fully expect consumers to reach for summery world foods and world beers as they watch the Olympic Games this summer,” says Molson Coors customer contact strategy manager Mark Elston. “To boost sales further, c-stores might consider doing matching deals, for example, ready-made curry with a four-pack of Cobra, or tortillas with Corona. This sort of deal provides a point of differentiation from their competitors. It is also an opportunity for shop owners to increase the spend of customers who are looking to take advantage of the fact that they can buy cold beer ahead of major events.”

World beer is one of the sub-categories that is continuing to grow in a challenging beer market, points out Elston, whose company supplies Corona, Sol, Peroni and San Miguel as well as Coors. “In part, this is down to novelty and because people want to recapture a bit of the magic of the holiday on which they first tried a particular beer. What is more, world beer - which is often bottled and in smaller serves - has strong appeal across the sexes. We have found that world beers perform particularly well during the summer when drinkers are looking for extra refreshment. Products such as Corona have that summery resonance that is boosted by its lime serve.”

Keep your cool

There are some simple ways you can boost your world beer sales, says Elston. Keep your beer cold, ideally between 4°C and 6°C, and make sure that you advertise the fact, he advises. “At the Molson Coors My Cold Beer Club we give our members bunting, signs and posters to direct customers to the right aisle to get their beer.”

He adds: “When it comes to merchandising, we suggest that world beers be given a similar space to ciders, about 10% each. However, as we expect a pickup in world beer sales during the summer and because it is a category that is performing well, retailers could consider allowing more space for world beers for a limited period.”

Snack attack

There is also a growing demand for interesting snack-style accompaniments, especially for Big Night In occasions. Dragon Rouge’s Carter explains: “There is a need for an ever-increasing selection of snack-style accompaniments for the ‘girls night in’ or family and friends’ sharing occasions and these people are open to quick-to-prepare, more exciting, cosmopolitan variants to cook in the oven or microwave.”
Daloon Foods relaunched its top-selling 60g Spring Rolls earlier this year. Available in Oriental vegetable and Cantonese-style chicken, the Spring Rolls come in a display pack of four, with respective rrps of £1.19 and £1.29.

Recent consumer market data from Kantar Worldpanel (52 weeks to December 25, 2011) showed just how well the frozen ethnic snacks market has performed in the current challenging economic climate. Over the past two-year period (Dec 2009 to Dec 2011) the frozen ethnic snacks market grew by 10.3% in value.

Expenditure on Oriental frozen ethnic snacks also increased, up by 9.4% between December 2012 and December 2011, while spend on Indian frozen ethnic snack foods rose 16% over the same period.

“Consumers are demanding ever more authentic ethnic products, but at a price that doesn’t break the bank,” says Daloon managing director Geoff Burgess.