Once upon a time, if your average Brit fancied something exotic they’d simply chow down on a number 54 from a Chinese, or order a foil-covered chicken tikka from the local Indian.
Nowadays, according to Kantar Worldpanel, UK consumers are pushing aside standard curry and Oriental cuisine for something spicy from South and Central America. The market analysts report that customers are now spending twice as much on tortillas and Mexican meal kits than on the ingredients for curries.
So while the make-your-own curry market is now worth £90.3m (with an impressive £2.27m spent on poppadums) shoppers forked out £101m on tortillas and £67.5m on Mexican meal kits in 2013.
And the street-food inspired trend shows no sign of slowing. This year Mintel identified churros (a delectable deep-fried South American dessert) as a potential future superstar for the retail channel.
Ethnic is the answer for the meal-for-tonight shopper
According to HIM senior research manager Blake Gladman, one of the central opportunities for selling world food is to capitalise on both the top-up and meal-for-tonight missions.
“Top-up is the main and most valuable mission in convenience, and meal-for-tonight is increasing in its popularity,” he explains. “So products that feed into the ‘everyday basic’ bracket or easy meal solutions, such as cooking kits and ready-made sauces, for example, would be popular.”
There’s evidence that sauce manufacturers are now highlighting their products’ money-saving potential as well as spiciness. Mintel notes that Patak’s added a limited-edition turkey curry sauce over Christmas marketed as a way to use up every last bit of bird - and there’s definitely mileage in helping consumers add an ethnic kick to leftovers.
Meanwhile, Gladman adds that hungry commuters hurrying home from the office are looking for new ideas, as well as ingredients, among the aisles. “Shoppers are increasingly looking for inspiration, so if retailers can combine ingredients together in one display - fresh meat, sauce and rice for example - then this creates an easy meal solution based on the shopper mission.”
But while customers’ tastes are definitely changing, how can more c-store retailers incorporate these exotic flavours into their world food offer? Max Jenvey from Oxxygen Marketing believes that food to go is a great place to begin the journey into world food - and all it takes is a little imagination.
“We have talked a lot about how Tex Mex has taken over from curry as the nation’s favourite world food choice,” he explains. “It’s really important that retailers pick up on trends like these. And that starts with getting out from behind the counter and finding out what’s going on in their local high street.
“Street food is now a really big pull,” he adds. “At least once a week in pretty much every major conurbation you’ll see an open-air food market featuring everything from burritos to sushi.”
While you might not want to ditch the sausage rolls in favour of a morning sushi selection, simple tweaks to an existing menu can go a long way. For instance, Jenvey points out that if retailers have a roast chicken offer (which is central to food to go in many stores), it can be as easy as also offering chicken tikka, or Caribbean-style jerk chicken.
“And let’s not forget our continental cousins,” says Jenvey. “If you’re using Yorkshire ham in a sandwich consider changing it to Serrano ham, then add basil. It’s a really simple twist.”
Celeb chefs such as Jamie Oliver have brought once niche ingredients such as Serrano ham to mainstream attention. Jenvey says that as a consequence today’s shoppers are no longer after generic ‘Indian’ or ‘Chinese’ flavours - and that 36% want choices that appear authentic, and are preferably locally sourced.
“A good way to achieve this is by working with the high street traders I was talking about,” he says. “Often you can get a really good deal on fresh stock and customers will love the fact it’s sourced from just down the road.”
Retailer Vic Grewal, who owns a Budgens store in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, and a Simply Fresh in Thames Ditton, Surrey, says that he’s found thinking local has helped boost sales of his store’s global foods. “I think that going forward world food will be a must for convenience stores,” he says. “Basically, now you’ve got a diverse ethnic mix in the UK - and the English community are more likely to try new flavours from other countries.”
Vic keeps things local by ordering a range of frozen samosas, spring rolls and other ethnic ‘finger foods’ from a local supplier. “We order them in once a week and then fry them for customers every day,” he says. “We have about 10 or 12 different varieties and they go down really well.”
Vic is already planning to go one step further and install a chef who can whip up fresh ethnic ready meals on a daily basis, which customers can take home for dinner. “At about 5pm we see that people want to come in and get something for dinner as the commuters from London start coming home” he says. “I think they just get sick of eating the same thing all the time, they want some variety, and that means something more exotic. So, the more variety you offer the better.
“It’s all about offering something slightly different to the local community - it makes you more of a destination.”
If retailers haven’t yet dipped their toes into food to go then capitalising on the ethnic ready-made sauce options can be a smart move that chimes with the ‘meal for tonight’ crowd.
Market analyst Keynote says that easy-to-use cooking sauces allow customers to make ethnic dishes simply at home - with Malaysian, Brazilian and Caribbean flavours coming through as hot trends.
Bob Bettesworth, owner of Bob’s Shop in Newdigate, Surrey, has seen first-hand how customers’ tastes have become more globally focused in this area.
“People have definitely become more adventurous over the years. Now we sell all kinds of different sauces - unfortunately, they’re not to my taste, so my son buys them in,” he explains.
Bob adds that it’s mainly young families who are after the sauces, which he bolsters with a line of spicy condiments.
“We do offer a lot of different choices because at the end of the day it’s good for the shop - the wider the range the less likely shoppers are to go to Tesco,” he adds.
Vic believes the ambient world food sector is an important consideration for his store, too. “We do a small range of cooking sauces and we’d like to do more in future,” he says. “Cooking at home is definitely coming back and we’re seeing that Jamaican sauces are getting more popular.”
If, like Vic, retailers are looking to expand their world food range, the World Cup should provide the opportunity they need go global. And whether stores decide to offer sampling based around food sourced from the countries playing that week, or go for beer ’n spicy snack meal deals, a little Brazilian-style excitement and flair could help sales soar.
Customer services specialist Alf Dunbar advocates using sampling to sell new flavours to customers, especially those who may be reluctant to try different tastes. He says the key is to choose staff to run sampling sessions who are personable, outgoing and knowledgeable about the foods they’re offering.
“By finding ways to interact with customers you can really bring the foods to life,” he says.
After the success of KA Karnival Krush last year - which saw 1.2 million consumers buy the citrus-flavoured carbonate in 10 weeks - AG Barr has brought the variant back for 2014. Pricemarked packs are available on all packs.
Green Giant has tapped into the Southern American street food trend with Mexican Style Corn. Containing peppers, onions and black beans it adds a healthy twist to mid-week meals, with an 80g serving counting towards consumers’ five-a-day.
Arabian flavours made easy
Middle Eastern family firm BisBas has created a cooking sauce range bringing the flavours of Arabia to retailers’ shelves. There are three varieties of sauce: Fozia, containing tomato and coriander; Safia, an aromatic tomato-based sauce with flavours of garlic and herbs; and Saba, a spinach and coriander sauce. All three come in 350g jars, rrp £3.50.
Manamosa is a new range of tortilla chips with a twist. The three flavours of chip each have a different shape, designed either for snacking, scooping or dipping. Choose from chipotle & lime, white Cheddar and sea salt & cracked black pepper (rrp £1.99 for 160g pack).