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A lack of travel during the Covid-19 pandemic has led consumers on a hunt to find more authentic flavours from global cuisines. Indeed, recent data from online retail platform RangeMe revealed that demand for authentic products from around the world was rising during the lockdown.
There are numerous exciting global flavours for retailers to consider today – from the big and bold flavours of trending Ethiopian food (download our latest issue for more on that) to European cuisines which are worth a second look.
One of the most in-demand and exciting foreign cuisines of the day is Japanese food. “With the Olympics taking place this year, we’ve seen that Japanese food is having a moment,” Jade Hoai, director of purchasing and operations at Whole Foods Market, told Speciality Food. “Japanese cooking puts a lot of focus on freshness and simplicity, and uses ingredients that are still unfamiliar to many of us, so people are excited to try cooking with new ingredients, products and cooking styles to make more healthy, fresh dishes,” she added. At Whole Foods, trending ingredients include yuzu seasoning, umami paste, nori sprinkles and wasabi paste.
This summer, Waitrose also noted the growing demand for Japanese cuisine, with sales of its Japanese range increasing by almost 10% compared to the previous year. The retailer reported that sales of miso were up 19% and soy sauce was up 22%, while views of ‘easy Japanese recipes’ on its website spiked 72%, and views of sushi platters on Waitrose Entertaining grew 36% month-on-month.
In 2021, Whole Foods has also seen sales of miso, rayu (a Japanese-style chilli oil) on the rise. Japanese cuisine wasn’t the only winner, though, as the group’s organic pearled couscous also became a bestseller. “At Whole Foods Market, we’ve also seen an increase in sales of gluten-free, organic and vegan foreign products, highlighting the demand for ingredients and products that cater to alternative lifestyles is here to stay,” Jade said.
For more on how to stock the Japanese food trend, click here.
Travel-inspired drinks have long taken a backseat to meals, but that is now changing according to Subha Rao, co-founder and director of Bodha Drinks. She told Speciality Food that after arriving in the UK 15 years ago as a student, Asian food could usually only be found in small, independent shops. Now, it’s available in major supermarkets across the country.
However, she continued, “The drinks market has not kept pace with the desire for exploring Eastern flavours.” While Subha noted that some beer brands, such as Cobra, Asahi and Tiger, have done well to drive home the message of authentic food pairing, soft drinks need to catch up. That’s why she co-created Bodha, a non-alcoholic drink made with botanical extracts of rose and cardamom that complements the bold spices and flavours of Asian food.
Subha believes retailers need to prioritise drinks to sit alongside their global food selection, and independents have a chance to lead the way. “Given the trend to experience more exotic flavours in the most authentic way, it is only a matter of time before the supermarkets will need to make shelf space for authentic soft drinks made with Eastern flavours,” she said.
Waitrose’s data also showed that customers were looking for Japanese-inspired drinks to enjoy with their sushi and soba noodles, with views of Roku gin, a Japanese craft gin, up 1,180% on its website.
With countries beginning to open up and foreign travel potentially set to rebound, will the taste for globally inspired tastes continue? “Yes, most definitely,” said Jade. “Even as travel becomes more common, peoples’ purchasing habits have forever changed and we have seen more people experimenting with their cooking,” she said.
“The world has become increasingly smaller, with no-frills airlines resulting in more people travelling to exotic destinations giving them access to authentic, local cuisines and flavours creating a strong food memory,” added Subha. “2020 has not been a travel-friendly year, yet the rise in take-outs, meal kit deliveries and virtual cooking classes has meant that you could be in your kitchen and have a cook-along with chefs across the world to re-create those food memories.”
Plus, if this year’s Japanese food trend taught us anything it’s that global sporting events can influence the food sector, too. With the 2022 winter Olympics being held in Beijing and the 2024 summer Olympics just around the corner in Paris, there are plenty of foodie delights to consider on the horizon. For foreign products and ingredients, it appears the only way is up.