Of all the categories benefiting from the consumer trend toward the Big Night In, ethnic foods is one of the biggest.

Cooking sauces, rice and ethnic ingredients are all in double-digit growth in the convenience sector, as an increasing body of people opt to recreate easily achievable and often healthier international recipes in their own homes rather than splash their cash on nights out in restaurants.

And given the investment which has been ploughed into the category in the 12 months since Convenience Store's last ethnic foods feature, it's easy to see why.

Many of the big brands have had larger marketing budgets to play with; Uncle Ben's spend on rice alone accounted for more than £5m, up 61.5% on 2008, while Sharwoods invested more than £1.69m in its brands, up from £1.34m the year before.

Marketing campaigns have also been carefully thought out, with many playing heavily on the value-for-money message, and none more so than General Mills' Chinese recipe kits Wanchai Ferry, which saw sales pick up dramatically following the launch of a marketing campaign offering consumers a money-back guarantee if they didn't feel the food was better than their local takeaway.

The Wanchai Ferry brand will also be further promoted this year with money-off coupons placed on 500,000 packs of Old El Paso Fajita Dinner Kits.

Rationalised ranges and greater guidance for retailers on how to merchandise products have also helped to dispel much of the confusion caused by the number of products on the market and their varying uses, adds Blue Dragon consumer and trade marketing controller Tracy Hughes.

The consumer desire for healthier, more natural products has also been a key driver of ethnic product sales. The fact that a large proportion of dishes can be created purely with vegetables and noodles or rice has helped to make them an ideal meal option for people looking to keep a closer eye on their waistlines, and on their wallets.

The demand for more natural foods has also prompted a number of big name manufacturers to reformulate their products and shorten ingredients lists. Greencore's Kiveton's Kitchen convenience range has been revamped, while many ethnic cooking sauce suppliers, including Sharwood's, Patak's and Uncle Ben's, have refined their recipes.

The Big Night In trend has also helped frozen ethnic snacks continue the success story of the past few years. "The explosion of 'party food' ranges for the Big Night In has made mini spring rolls, mini samosas and onion bhajis firm year-round favourites," says Daloon Foods (UK) managing director Geoff Burgess.

The recession has, however, decreased demand for Eastern European products. UK price pressures have prompted many Poles to return home, with those staying continuing to integrate further into UK culture and buy more standard products.

However, RH Amar, supplier of the Fortuna and Lowicz brands, says that retailers shouldn't write off the category entirely. Key lines such sauerkraut, gherkins, confectionery and drinks are still popular sellers, the company adds.

But as one market declines others are opening up. Caribbean food and drink is one of the rising stars in the UK's ethnic foods market and it's poised for further growth in 2010. Many factors are contributing to the success of the category. These include growing consumer demand for new taste experiences, a steady stream of new product developments such as Bird Eye's new Reggae Reggae Beef Quarter Pounders, and greater depth of distribution in the convenience channel.

"One of the category's biggest strengths is that distribution is spread across a number of product sectors," says George Phillips, commercial director of Enco Products, which owns the Caribbean brands Grace, Dunn's River and Encona. "These include nutritional drinks, sauces, malt and carbonate drinks, canned meat and fish. This highlights the broad appeal of the category and why Caribbean is attracting so many new consumers," he adds.

Enco is planning to drive demand in 2010 with national advertising, promotions, sponsorship and sampling. "Creating awareness by itself is not enough. We have to engage and enthuse consumers," adds Phillips.

"There is still an element of the unknown about Caribbean dishes and part of our job is to work with retailers to educate consumers on how quick and easy it is to make great-tasting snacks and meals with Caribbean food."
top tips
Consumers shop by cuisine type so block different countries separately, although merchandise Thai with Chinese 

Display high-volume sauces in the middle of each cuisine block 

Display carbohydrates, such as noodles, next to sauces to encourage complementary purchases 

Meal accompaniments, such as soy sauce, should be displayed at eye level to encourage add-on sales 

Purchase of ingredients, such as pastes, is normally planned so can be displayed in 'cooler' areas of the fixture such as the top shelf 

Add emerging cuisines such as Caribbean, Japanese, Indonesian and Malaysian to the range if space permits. 

Source: Blue Dragon