Demand for Polish food and drink has been so overwhelming that it's become the fastest growing ethnic food range ever launched in Britain. Those were the words of Elena Connell, ethnic foods buying manager at Tesco, talking to the Sunday Telegraph last summer. However, when it comes to stocking Polish food, for many c-stores it's a case of 'been there, done that'.
Dave Newman, who has three shops in Hastings, East Sussex, began catering for Polish customers a couple of years ago and has now got to the stage where he's cutting back the number of lines he offers. "As soon as the first influx of Polish people came to Hastings we started stocking Polish meats and jars of sauerkraut and they flew off the shelves," he explains. "However, as time has gone on demand has diminished. This is because we get families here rather than just single men. They have integrated and the kids go to local schools, so now instead of Polish foods they want British favourites like Kinder eggs and Pot Noodle like other kids."
As a result, Dave has cut his Polish food range right back. "I stick to a reduced range of best-sellers which includes some Polish meat, sauerkraut, vegetable salad and a really good green olive salad. Plus if I'm at the cash and carry I pick up some Polish bread because that always sells well."
Dave uses Bestway and Dhamecha in Croydon, Surrey, and says both have a good Polish offer.
Further along the coast, in Eastbourne, Ricky Burgess runs two shops catering for Poles: Ezee Shop and Ezee Shop Extra. He tells Convenience Store that trade is good, with beer and vodka his best-sellers.
Of course, with upwards of 750,000 Poles now living in the UK, suppliers have been falling over themselves to offer lines that will appeal. Last summer Nestlé brought its Polish brand Winiary to the UK and RH Amar & Co extended its range to include Polish lines.
Nisa buyer Nick Slater says the buying group offers 200 Polish food products as well as beers and vodka. "The range covers brand leaders in Poland plus a number of tertiary lines at unbeatable prices. "With ever-increasing numbers of immigrant workers, the demand for an Eastern European range is growing all the time. The products we supply are purchased by many different Eastern European nationalities, and even English consumers are trying them."
NICE AND SPICY
Polish food may be selling well, but Indian is still Britain's favourite ethnic food. According to Mintel, the Indian food market was valued at £494m in 2006, with the star performers being bread and snacks.
Patak's Foods market insight manager Matt Clark says that with Indian food there's one thing that consumers seek, and that's authenticity. "The key trend is a desire for authenticity - which is why Patak's is thriving. Product development and innovation is still driven by the Pathak family, so even new products are rooted in 50 years of heritage, based on authentic recipes using hand-picked spices."
When it comes to what to stock, Clark says: "The truth is that the lion's share of the market is accounted for by a relatively small number of flavours and dishes such as korma, jalfrezi and madras sauces, so these jar sauces are must-stock items. While one may think this indicates conservatism on the part of the consumer, it also indicates the huge potential we have to develop the market by encouraging diversity through greater experimentation."
Dave Newman is keen to ensure that his Indian range is as authentic as possible and says that's why he chooses Patak's. For Chinese food he goes to Wing Yip: "I don't stock a massive range of Chinese foods, but I do try to stock authentic lines; enough for when customers want to rustle up a stir-fry."
Chinese is the second largest ethnic food category and Mintel put its worth at £365m in 2006, with ready meals the biggest sector accounting for 63% of sales. The research company says accompaniments and stir-fry mixes are showing biggest growth.
Blue Dragon says it has attracted 285,000 new buyers to its stir-fry range in the past year. It believes this growth is due to promotional activity on its well-established 120g sachets as well as the popularity of its new premium sachets and jars. Then, like Patak's, there's its authenticity.
Blue Dragon consumer and trade marketing controller Tracy Hughes explains: "One of the reasons Blue Dragon is experiencing so much success is because the brand represents the authenticity of Oriental cuisine and is committed to producing authentic products. For instance, the ingredients for Blue Dragon's premium stir-fry sauce range are sourced in Malaysia, whereas ingredients for our premium curry pastes are sourced in Thailand."
Of course, not all ethnic foods have to be sophisticated. The Spar store in Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, does a roaring trade in Chinese instant noodles. Assistant manager Gina Reeve explains: "We have two universities in Sheffield so we get loads of students in and they can't get enough of these noodles. We have different brands such as Golden Wheat and HoFan - they're cheaper than Pot Noodle and people say they're better. A big pot sells for 99p."
The store has an extensive range of Chinese foods: "When we were told how much Chinese food was being put in I was surprised - I thought it was too much - but our customers love it," says Gina. "We have things such as shrimp crackers and chestnuts, plus Chinese teas in tins and bottles - they all sell well."
DOWN MEXICO WAY
Sales of Mexican food continue
to do well, too. Indeed, IRI data puts the value of Mexican food sold through grocery impulse outlets at £110m for the 52 weeks ending December 1, 2007.
Mintel reckons that demand for Mexican food will grow as penetration increases among younger consumers who become more familiar with the products.
General Mills UK, the company behind the Old El Paso brand, says consumer trends identified in long-term research reveal that Mexican food is just beginning to fulfil its potential. Sales director Andy Foweather says: "Within impulse, where space is at a premium, retailers need to focus on the leading brands and the best-selling products. Old El Paso is the UK's number one Mexican food brand, while the number one product is the Old El Paso fajita dinner kit."
Foweather says new products are important in the category. The latest from Old El Paso are Oven Baked Crispy Chicken Fajitas and Stand 'n' Stuff Tacos. The Crispy Chicken Fajitas have a crispy crumb coating and a mild heat level, while the Stand 'n' Stuff Tacos have a flat bottom designed to make them easier to fill.
"These newcomers will drive category penetration so more households will add Mexican products to their regular shopping repertoire," Foweather says.
A £5.5m marketing campaign
will support the brand in 2008 - designed to educate consumers about the potential of Mexican food.
The Afro-Caribbean food market is one in which c-stores do particularly well. According to IRI data for the 52 weeks ending January 26, 2008, the market is worth £93m, with c-stores accounting for £63m-worth of sales. Historically, those c-stores selling Afro-Caribbean
foods were serving just
Afro-Caribbean consumers, but not any more. The rise in travel and the high number of food programmes on TV have led more consumers to try Caribbean food and drink.
Grace Foods UK claims market leader status in the sector, accounting for about 37% of sales. Its two main brands are Encona hot and spicy sauces made from authentic Caribbean ingredients, and Nurishment,
a nutritionally enriched milk drink. Grace is backing both brands with a nationwide sampling campaign this summer.
Raju Patel of Blue Mountain in Harlesden, London, has been selling Caribbean food for years and says the Grace Foods range is his best-seller. "We're an old established shop so we know what people want. Our customers come from long distances to buy the food," he says. "Most are of Caribbean descent, but some have just been on holiday there and want to experiment with the food once they get home."
Meanwhile, Sanjay Wadhwani, managing director of Afro-Caribbean food specialist Wanis, says last year was a good one for the company, with huge interest in brands such as DG Malta, Bigga, Walkerswood, Baron Sauces and Dragon Stout. He says these brands have 'cult following' among the Afro-Caribbean community in the UK. "But we have had great success with our cross-over products, too," Wadhwani adds, "including our Tropical Sun range of sauces, with sales increasing by 80% in the past 12 months. These sauces are popular for classic Afro-Caribbean cooking as well as an ingredient in mainstream dishes where consumers are using them to add an exotic kick."
Three new sauces have just been added to the range: rasta, chilli garlic and peri-peri.
Wadhwani reckons Caribbean food will be the 'next big thing' in ethnic food. "The market has massive potential. In 2007 we saw double-digit sales increases for our Afro-Caribbean products and we expect this to continue in 2008 as consumers become more familiar with the category. We predict that favourites such as hot pepper sauces and jerk sauces will continue to move further into the mainstream, while consumers will also start to try lesser-known specialist products such as Callaloo, Gungo peas, Fufu flour and Ackee."
Other ethnic food categories include Thai, which Mintel estimates was worth £186m in 2007.
Mai Siam is a new range of products made in Thailand to offer consumers a 'true Thai taste'. The line-up, available from RH Amar, includes coconut milk, rice noodles, sriracha chilli sauce, sweet chilli sauce and fish sauce.
So what's the next destination for ethnic foods? Mintel reckons that Japanese food will be the next big growth area and if the amount of sushi that is available in certain supermarkets is anything to go by, then it's definitely a market for retailers to watch.
Food of the world
Mars Food UK's new trade website, www.foodsoftheworld.co.uk, aims to be a 'one stop shop' for impartial category advice and marketing support for independent retailers, to help them drive sales of meal-time solutions. It is supported by three Mars brands: Dolmio, Uncle Ben's and Seeds of Change.
The site includes category advice, market information, planograms, pos material and the latest news on the brands. Click on the 'Fixture & Range' tab, for example, and then select how many metres you want to stock: one, two, four, six, eight or 12. You are then given a planogram plus a shopping list.
And the 'Display Materials' tab enables you to print posters and shelf strips.
Daniel Sanders, category insights manager for Mars, comments: "We are confident that the Foods of the World website will make life easier for the independent retailer, providing a wealth of information and advice to help drive sales in the 'Foods of the World' aisle."
Daloon Foods managing director Geoff Burgess reckons there's an opportunity for c-stores to stock frozen ethnic snacks. "The latest TNS data reveals that over the past two years expenditure in the frozen ethnic snacks market has grown by 35.5%," he explains.
Chinese continues to be the most popular frozen ethnic snack, accounting for 60% of the market by value. And mini snacks is the strongest performing sector, driven by the growth of party food and products such as mini spring rolls, mini samosas and mini onion bhajis.
The latest products from Daloon are duck mini spring rolls and a prawn toast party pack.
Says Burgess: "We've seen rapid growth in sales of duck spring rolls and of ethnic seafood-based snacks. Particular growth has been witnessed at the premium end, although the value-for-money sector is still a key driver.
"Another frozen snack area that continues to develop is Mexican which, although starting from a low base, has grown by 228% since 2005 and is now the fourth largest ethnic snack sector."
Bestway reckons that some independent retailers have been put off stocking certain ethnic foods by the amount of stock that they would have to hold.
However, Map Trading - a leading supplier of ethnic foods and part of Bestway - has come to the rescue by increasing availability of key products in smaller pack sizes.
Gurmail Singh Lai, marketing manager for the White Pearl brand at Map Trading, explains: "Traditionally, 100g spices, 500g lentils, 500g flours and 500g rice were only available from cash and carries in packs of 20. We have now produced these products in packs of 10 under the brand name White Pearl and these are available from Bestway and Batley cash and carry branches across the country.
"The 10-packs take less shelf space and thereby enable the smaller c-store retailers to stock a wider range of ethnic food products with a much smaller capital outlay."