Consumers may not be eating out at their favourite curry house or ordering take-aways as much these days, but they still want to enjoy their favourite ethnic cuisine - and that means plenty of opportunity for c-store retailers.

A recent YouGov poll of 2,000 consumers found that 37% were spending less on take-aways and 15% had stopped buying them all together, leaving c-stores in a good position to offer the ingredients to cook the same foods at home as a cheaper alternative.

"The recession has seen consumers review their finances, but they are still aware of and passionate about cuisines from around the world, and still want to recreate food from other cultures at home," says Wendy Wing, customer marketing manager at Uncle Ben's manufacturer Mars Food UK.

Sue Knight, director of culinary brands at Sharwood's cooking sauce manufacturer Premier Foods, agrees that the independent trade should be able to capitalise on consumers' need to get their favourite ethnic food at home. "As the credit crunch deepens, consumers' appetite for cooking sauces is increasing as they look for tasty and economical meals which can be created for a fraction of the cost of a take-away," she says.

Wing points out that as well as the UK population's diverse ethnic mix, worldwide travel has been one of the drivers behind the success of the Oriental food category. But so too has consumers' desire for healthy, convenient meals, adds Tracey Hughes, Blue Dragon consumer and trade marketing controller. "Shoppers are looking for new, interesting flavours and textures, but are still wanting quick and easy options," says Hughes. "Oriental cuisine and cooking methods provide exactly that."

The overall oriental grocery food market is worth £146m and is growing at 4% year on year (AC Nielsen, 52 weeks ending December 27, 2008). Chinese cuisine accounts for most Oriental food sales, but Thai food continues to gain in popularity, as does Indonesian food, which has grown 82% in value since last year.

Encouragingly for the Oriental market, all sub sectors are in growth. Sauces, main meal noodles and snack noodles are up, so too is coconut milk/cream - a key ingredient of home-cooked curries - which is up 20.3% (Nielsen, 52 weeks ending February 9, 2008).

One of the year's key trends is authenticity, which is one of the factors behind the success of Blue Dragon's 14.6% year-on-year growth, says Hughes. The brand's stir-fry sauces are up 18.3% year on year and its Sweet Chilli Dipping sauce up 45.9%. The range was extended to include new Hot and Kaffir Lime variants and four new squeezy variants: Thai Sweet Chilli - Hot, Malaysian Satay, Chinese BBQ and Chinese Sweet & Sour.

The total dipping sauce market is up 10.6% and another product taking full advantage of the growing trend is RH Amar's Nandos dipping chilli sauce. Category controller Lesley Parker attributes its growth to increased awareness of the restaurant brand.

Oriental food is the biggest selling category for Asiana, supplier of ethnic food to restaurants, oriental supermarkets and c-stores throughout the UK. A fifth of the company's £14m turnover also comes from three company-owned ethnic stores in Nottingham, Peterborough and Leicester.

"We like to be innovative and are constantly looking for something new," says Asiana purchasing manager Sandy Lathia. "Consumers are demanding more authentic products as they travel and find out what real Thai green curry should taste like. Healthy eating has also added to the increased popularity of Oriental foods."

Bolly good show

The Indian food market is well established in the UK, but two years ago the £493.8m market was showing signs of maturing with relatively static sales (Mintel Indian Foods UK, January 2007).

But Indian cooking sauces, ready meals and accompaniments are all enjoying healthy growth. Indian cooking sauces are worth £187m to the grocery industry - up 6.3% year on year - and have the second largest category share behind Italian, which is worth £324m and is up 8.7% year on year (IRI 52 weeks ending November 15, 2008).

Premier Foods' Sue Knight believes independents should stock up on more Indian cooking sauces to capitalise on the growing trend for using up leftovers in home-made curries and stir-fries. "Cooking sauces are the backbone of home cooking for millions of families and help shoppers create great tasting meals for a relatively low cost."

Developments in the Indian sauce market have included the redevelopment of Premier Foods' Loyd Grossman range and the relaunch of Uncle Ben's with improved, healthier recipes. Both ranges include Tikka Masala, a best-seller for independents.

Indian accompaniments have also been experiencing growth. Premier Foods recently launched a range of ambient Indian side dishes in microwaveable 300g pouches under the Sharwood's brand, including Bombay potato, saag aloo and vegetable curry. Indian ready meal sales in the convenience market are also up, unlike English and Italian ready meals.


Mexican food is gaining in popularity, too. Much of its growth has been generated through the success of Old El Paso, which is expanding at 14.2% year on year, accounting for 52.7% of category sales. In 2008 the brand launched Old El Paso Stand 'n' Stuff Tacos and Old El Paso Oven Baked Crispy Chicken Fajitas.

Uncle Ben's, the market leader in the Mexican sauce segment, also recorded year-on-year growth of 3.3% (IRI, 52 weeks ending January 24, 2009), thanks largely to the success of the chilli variant.

Around the world

For the past couple of years, the rise in popularity of Polish food has been the big story in the ethnic food sector thanks to a wave of immigration from Eastern Europe. But as the UK economy falters, headlines suggest the migrant population is returning home, and taking with it demand for Eastern European food.

Yet RH Amar's Olga German says the company's Eastern European brands are still experiencing significant growth. "Despite reports of decreasing demand for Polish foods, we have seen an increase in demand for such foods," she says. "Fortuna 100% juices with no added sugar and Frutti Carrotti carrot-based nectars have both seen increased demand in the convenience sector."

Caribbean food is one of the latest shining stars of the grocery market, with impressive 52% growth by value over the past five years and an estimated value of £41m (Thai and Other Emerging Ethnic Foods - UK Mintel 2007).

Dragons' Den entrepreneur Levi Roots has been doing his bit to increase awareness of the cuisine with his Reggae Reggae brand in the AB World Foods stable. Reggae Reggae Sauce is now the second biggest selling sku in the hot and barbecue sauce category. A new range of cooking sauces, which includes Levi Roots' Reggae Reggae, Caribbean Curry and Jamaican Brown Stew, has just hit the market.

Ethnic snacks

The latest TNS Market Data (52 weeks ending December 28, 2008) shows that frozen ethnic snacks recorded growth of 24% in the two years between December 2006 and December 2008.

"The ethnic snacks market has been one of the most dynamic areas of the growing ethnic food market, with strong year-on-year growth over recent years," says Daloon Foods (UK) managing director Geoff Burgess.

He says the company has been developing products specifically for the independent trade, resulting in increased distribution of its frozen ethnic snack range. "As the credit crunch continues to bite, consumers are replacing nights out with evenings in with friends," he says. "The ethnic food market is the ideal answer to this shift in buying pattern and convenience stores should be ideally placed to capitalise on this."
retailer opinion
"I sell a wide range of ethnic cuisine as my store is in a highly multicultural community and products such as rice, pasta, pulses, lentils and spicy food all account for a large part of our sales.

"Italian is our biggest range, followed by Indian, Greek, Mexican and Chinese. Over the past few years fresh pasta and Italian sauces have grown well, but Indian has done even better, as have noodles in our Oriental range."

"Handheld snacks such as bhajis and samosas, which we source from local supplier Quality Foods, are also performing exceptionally. People no longer lunch and dine like they used to - they want food on the go and that's why our Greek meze range has done exceptionally well, as you just peel the lid and eat."

Alpesh Patel, Londis Crouch End, London
Gains in grains - rice
Thanks to the success of world cuisine, volume sales of rice are on the up. The phenomenal success of the more expensive basmati variety over the past couple of years has also meant value sales are looking healthy. For the first time, basmati outsold standard long grain rice by value last year. Dry rice is now worth £25m to convenience stores, with year-on-year growth of 38%.

"Rice is already a bigger category than pasta and noodles, and is becoming more important as it is seen as healthier than other carbs," says Tilda category manager Tony Condron.

The strength of basmati sales helped Tilda overtake Uncle Ben's to become the number one dry rice brand in convenience.

Uncle Ben's customer marketing manager Wendy Wing observes that many independents are allocating more shelf space to microwaveable rice, having realised its potential.
new products

Ferry good

General Mills UK is helping consumers create authentic Chinese recipes at home with a new range of recipe kits under the Wanchai Ferry brand. The range consists of a trio of authentic flavours from three Chinese provinces, including Xiang Gu Chicken, Kung Pao Chicken and Bo Luo Pork. Packs contain individual sachets of marinade, stir-fry sauce and freeze-dried vegetables. All shoppers need to do is buy the required meat. The launch will be backed by a £4m marketing programme, spearheaded by a national TV campaign.

rrp: £3.89.

tel: 01895 201100

As seen on TV

Phileas Fogg is to run a nationwide TV campaign for its crisps, tortillas and poppadoms. Adverts tell the story of how Phileas Fogg ingredients are harvested. The scene is set in Indonesia where farmers are picking black peppercorns. The story follows them to their village where the peppercorns are laid out to dry and then put in Phileas Fogg hot-air balloons. The campaign will run until the end of April and again later in the year. Retailers will be supported by in-store activity.

rrp: sea salt & Indonesian black peppercorn 140g, £1.65

tel: 0800 1380813