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By now, retailers across the UK are well aware of the tangible impact the Covid-19 pandemic had on consumer tastes. In the absence of travel – domestic as well as international – consumers of all persuasions were more tempted than ever to enjoy their favourite world foods in the comfort of their own homes.
Of course, the closure of restaurants meant a step-change for non-home cooks, many of whom learned to – if not master – at least appropriate the key elements of the international dishes they were used to enjoying on holiday or while eating out; from Indian curries and Italian staples to adventurous foods from the likes of Africa and Asia.
“We are seeing a change in cooking patterns and meal occasions,” agrees Upuli Ambwatta, brand manager – World Food Portfolio at Empire Bespoke Foods. “First, the Covid pandemic triggered growth in scratch cooking while flexible working patterns made lunch an increasingly significant meal occasion. With more time spent at home and the prolonged closure of food service restaurants shoppers explored more and developed greater confidence in their home cooking.”
Of course, while supporting local producers became more tangibly important than before for many shoppers, few could resist the lure of far-flung flavours – and this appetite still holds strong. “Fundamentally consumers are looking for food adventure, Upuli continues. “From Mintel we know that 74% of world cuisine eaters say that world cuisine flavours make an at-home lunch more exciting, and 42% would like to see more products that guide them through authentic cooking techniques.
Indeed, according to consumer insights from FMCG Gurus, 66% of consumers in Europe enjoy food and drink products with new and unusual flavours – especially those which challenge their sensory perceptions. This number increases when you scale up to a global audience, showing that there is plenty of room for growth in the UK market.
“FMCG Gurus insights demonstrate that 76% of global consumers like to try new flavors from around the world, and 71% of global consumers like to try new flavors from specific regions around the world,” explains Kate Kehoe, marketing executive at FMCG Gurus, stating data from the business’s Flavor, Color & Texture 2022 Global Report.
“This research exposed an interesting detail – not only do 82% of global consumers enjoy spicy flavours associated with non-traditional UK food, but 49% considered ‘new and exotic’ flavours originating from some international regions to be healthier. “This implies that consumers associate certain regions in the world with healthier diets,” says Kate.
“As a result, food and drink products from certain regions have a health halo. This creates an opportunity for brands who sell certain cuisines to utilise storytelling and their origin to promote certain flavors with health-boosting benefits.”
“International food is a hugely popular sector in the UK’s fine food market because we are a nation of food lovers,” states Tara Mei, founder of Mahalo – a new distributor of the best emerging food and drink brands – and co-founder of Bread & Jam.
“Being an adventurous, knowledgeable foodie plays a huge part in our identities and having a wide ranging, seasoned palate is something to be revered” – something which swathes of Speciality Food readers’ customers would undoubtedly agree with.
“We are also a nation of explorers,” she continues. “We love new experiences and international food is an easy way to indulge and embark on an adventure from our own kitchens. The fine food market in particular has always been where we turn to for an experience so it is no surprise that the international food category is expanding within it.”
For retailers, producers and distributors both established and new to market, world food is undoubtedly a flavour and opportunity-filled sector. “When I launched Mahalo, I spotted an opportunity in the international foods category and the growth that we’ve experienced so far, with turnover doubling year on year, is partly due to our focus in sourcing brands within this category,” explains Tara.
“Mahalo has been able to offer our customers an eclectic mix of high quality, artisanal products with a wide-ranging heritage that really meets the demands of the adventurous British palate. Some of our bestsellers include the mighty White Mausu, a range of Japanese inspired condiments; Payst, an innovative range of Thai dipping sauces; Rempapa, Southeast Asian curry pastes; Now Now, South African curry kits and Bold Bean Co, Spanish heirloom beans. As well as outstanding taste, these lines are fantastic, tried and tested entry point products for farm shops and delis who are perhaps diversifying to the international food category for the first time.”
For Empire Bespoke Foods, one of the UK’s leading importers, distributors and brand-builders since its launch by Chandresh Patel in 1997, international food is part of its DNA. “Our vision is to inspire consumers with indulgent flavours from around the world so international food brands are very much at the heart of our business,” explains Upuli.
“We are passionate about bringing authenticity and provenance from around the world, whether you’re wanting the finest Pad Thai (Thai Taste) or simply want to try the UK #1 gherkin brand (Mrs Elswood). Our selection of products stretches from traditional French lemonades, American barbecue sauces, cereals and confectionary, authentic Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian foods, to the finest German gingerbread.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, giving Brits’ penchant for Indian feasting, foods from India make up over a third of ambient ethnic world food, followed by Mexican and Chinese, says Upuli.
“Indian world foods continues to evolve with shoppers exploring new cuisines from across India with one in five people eating Indian at least once a week,” he explains, “and Oriental cuisines are also gaining popularity and have the highest growth contribution to the overall ethnic world food category. Restaurant chains like Rosa’s (Thai), Busaba (Thai) and Pho (Vietnamese) let consumers explore tastes that may be new to them.” The most outward-looking foodies? “We find it’s younger shoppers (16-34) who are the most receptive to new cuisines.”
For Empire Bespoke Foods, plant-based and healthy options are key pointers for the coming year, with one-third of world cuisine shoppers seeking out ideas around making their dishes healthier.
“39% of world cuisine eaters are interested in products that are suitable for use with both meat and meat-free dishes. Most major brands are expanding their product range to cater to this growing trend,” says Upuli.
“At EBF we put continuous effort into tracking new food trends and gaps in the market which helps us to bring in exciting new cuisines and brands to UK consumers. Our new brand, Master Cook – launching with an Indian food portfolio (meal kits and heat and eat dals) – are 100% plant-powered meal solutions for those who are looking to taste authentic Indian cuisine, and we’ve also refreshed our existing Vietnamese range (Nem Viet Summer Roll and Pho kits) so that they are 100% plant-based.”