“If flavor fanatics are going to spend their hard earned money and time visiting an ethnic restaurant or buying international foods to prepare at home, increasingly, they want it to be the real deal,” said David Browne, senior analyst at Mintel. “Therefore, products positioned as such have a greater likelihood of finding favor with consumers.”
Aside from an authentic flavor, ethnic foodies also place importance on all-natural (49%), premium/gourmet or artisanal (49%) and reduced fat (48%) positional claims, which round out the top characteristics overall that matter in the purchase decision.
“This interest in genuine ethnic fare aligns with a broader consumer trend, ‘The Real Thing,’ where we see consumers continually set a higher bar for what they consider authentic,” commented Alexandra Smith, director of consumer trends, Mintel. “Today's American has much greater exposure to diverse cultures than an American 20 years ago. And as once-exotic things like sushi or yoga become mainstream, we seek new, more niche markers of cultural authenticity.”
According to data acquired during Mintel’s custom consumer survey, 93% of respondents reported either prepared ethnic food at home or eaten it in a restaurant in the past month, which was reflective of an increase in interest from 2010. Respondents indicated home preparation grew by three percentage points while those who indicated a preference for restaurant consumption grew by six percentage points.
When making ethnic fare at home, 70% of Mintel respondents say they made Italian food in the past 30 days. However, Italian food has become so common place in the US, it is hardly considered ethnic anymore, the researchers found. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of people made Mexican food, followed by 46% who whipped up a Chinese creation. Twenty-nine percent of home cooks felt like one type of food wasn’t enough and decided to go “fusion”…mixing elements from various culinary traditions while not fitting specifically into any.
Meanwhile, a full 81% of respondents say they ate ethnic food away from home in the month leading up to the survey, a six percentage point increase from 2010. According to Mintel Menu Insights, the five most popular ethnic cuisine menu items in restaurants at the end of Q3 2011 were Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Pan-Asian and Japanese.
Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food enjoyed robust growth in the past year and both are expected to continue to gain in popularity in the future, as well as a healthy and convenient positioning.
“Consumer interest in healthy eating and convenience food contributes to the growth seen in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern categories,” adds David Browne. “The growing popularity of pre-packaged hummus and Greek-style yogurt mixed with the deli salad case offering chickpea, tabbouleh, and orzo salads is giving this cuisine a healthful and easy edge on the competition.”
A closer look at gender differences, as they related to preferences for food characteristics, found that women generally ascribed greater importance to product health benefits than men. For example, women were more likely to indicate the importance of factors such as “all natural,” “reduced fat,” and “reduced calorie” attributes. In addition to their own health, women are often food preparers in households with children and thus shopped and cooked with the health interests of loved ones in mind.
Mintel also reported that the survey respondents aged 65+ were not only more likely than average to indicate the importance of the health-related characteristics of ethnic food, but they indicated that those factors held greater importance than some of the other characteristics that rose to the top for the overall respondent base. For example, 61% of the oldest respondents indicated reduced fat to be an important characteristic, rating it higher than all natural and premium.
“As consumers age, attention turns to the maintenance of health and to finding ways to combat ill health,” Mintel found. “Diet and dietary restrictions play a large role in this and may play a part in the lower-than-average participation of older respondents in ethnic food preparation. Engaging this audience will require developing and promoting products that can meet these health needs.”