Multiples can try, but they can’t keep up with the indies’ ability to respond fast to provide the local community with the products and ingredients they want.
The very range and breadth of their offer, together with their ability to respond to customer needs, means independents will remain at the forefront of world food for a long time yet.
World food falls into two distinct camps, the first being traditional products that appeal to consumers for whom they are a ‘taste of home’, or simply products they have grown up with or used, often for generations.
The second are those that provide a ‘beacon’ for new consumers wishing to experience or try new tastes and experiences from other cultures.
George Phillips, commercial director at supplier Wanis International Foods, says: “Traditionally, we would have recommended retailers merchandise by cuisine, but such is the crossover now where West African consumers, for example, buy Asian or Caribbean products, we would always recommend merchandising by product category and mix the cuisines – all sauces and seasonings together, all flours, and so on.
“Core range is again not easy, for the same reasons, but must-stocks would be the main commodity lines – rice, flours, pulses, seasonings, soft drinks.
“Our data indicates the main buying motivation in independents remains home preparation and therefore the core ingredients are always going to be these essentials. We are seeing consumption across an ever-wider consumer base and this together with growing diasporas (notably from West Africa) is fuelling growth.
“Jerk is no longer solely the preserve of Jamaican consumers, and the same applies to jollof for Nigerian and Ghanaian consumers – international food is finding its way into ever more households.
“We see this through the 4,500 independent retail outlets we serve at Wanis, together with wholesale and cash and carry outlets across the UK. All are not only selling more but are stocking wider ranges, reflecting the increasing demand from consumers for flavour and variety, be it a taste of home for some or something new and exciting to cook and serve for others.”
Trends such as scratch cooking, flexitarianism and consumption of world cuisines are here to stay. In addition, the at-home lunch and dinner occasion will continue to grow as hybrid working remains. With rice being such a versatile ingredient, the category will benefit from these long-term trends, in turn driving greater penetration.
Meanwhile, as consumers continue to work from home, they are looking for quick lunch and dinner options that are varied, exciting and tasty.
Anna Beheshti, head of marketing at rice specialist Tilda, says: “The Tilda’s Ready to Heat range is ideal for the at-home eating occasion. It ranges from plainer variants like Pure Basmati or Fragrant Jasmine to more adventurous flavours from world cuisines, such as Peri Peri or Caribbean Rice & Peas. Also appealing to health-conscious consumers, it delivers the ultimate in speedy convenient meal preparation.
They are perfectly portioned and ready in just two minutes, enabling consumers to complete any tasty and nutritious midweek meal. We would recommend stocking more options from the Tasty Wholegrains range too, as they are a source of fibre.”
The real thing
Wanis is extremely broad-based and carries products literally from across the globe. Says Phillips: “We believe authenticity to be very important.
Among our leading product sectors of West African and Caribbean, while there is an understanding from consumers that some products cannot be sourced from these regions, equally there is the expectation that many of the core products are.
Made in Jamaica, Trinidad, Ghana or Nigeria are badges that carry weight and reassure consumers that they really are ‘getting the real thing’ and we continue to source increasing amounts of products from these origins to meet demand.”
Despite high inflation, consumers tend to remain loyal to brands where there are no cheaper alternatives that match the quality and purity. This is true for Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce, the brand says, which is made with four pure ingredients and is fermented for a long time “to allow the rich levels of umami to develop”.
Bing-yu Lee, general manager for Kikkoman UK, says brand loyalty has remained high despite a price increase. But, he adds, it is important to reward loyal consumers with regular promotions to give them the chance to stock up. He says: “We’ve seen a steady increase in the awareness and demand for authentic Japanese foods.
“Like many food trends, this is driven by a rise in the number of Asian restaurants including noodle and sushi bars. It is important for retailers to offer authentic Japanese ingredients from yuzu to mirin and of course Kikkoman, which is a centuries-old Japanese soy sauce.
“It’s important for independent retailers to get to know the demographics of the locality, including breakdown of age, race, ethnicity, culture, employment. For instance, an independent store in a well-off area will have a different range of products than one in a more-deprived area of town.
Knowing your customer base will prove a good guide to the needs and desires of the community and independents can then make a more informed choice on sourcing the right balance of products.”
Indian meal kits
Empire Bespoke Foods includes a range of world food cooking pastes, ingredients meal kits and sauces in the growing category of Asian and Oriental cuisine. Products include a plant-based award-winning vegan fish sauce and a Pad Thai sauce, a winner at the Great Taste Awards 2021.
Meal kits include a range of favourite south-east Asian dishes under the Thai Taste, Malay Taste and Nem Viet brands. The company has just launched Master Cook, its own range of pea-protein-filled, plant-based Indian meal kits and heat-and-eat dhals.
Upuli Ambawatta, brand manager for the world food portfolio at Empire Bespoke Foods, says: “Authenticity plays a major role. Customers’ intention in buying world food products is to recreate dishes they have tasted while traveling, or for those who are adventure-seekers to taste something new.
Hence using authentic ingredients and cooking techniques is very important when creating an authentic taste. All our world food brands are authentically sourced and produced to cater to the best quality taste experience.”
Food and drink pairings have always been a good way to merchandise and grow sales. Since 2019, consumers have bought 5% more world beer in comparison with standard lager and this is forecast to see a further 8% increase in sales by 2030.
Sunny Mirpuri, director for wholesale and convenience at Budweiser Brewing Group, says: “For retailers, this is a category that presents a huge opportunity. Not only is it clearly not going away any time soon, but it also presents the ability to encourage beer drinkers to trade up and discover premium options on a more regular basis.
Encouraging beer drinkers to trade up is now said to be worth £131m, so independents should make sure they have a robust line-up of world beer options on-shelf.”
As a nation, the UK has always had an adventurous interest in different foods from around the world. Phillips at Wanis concludes: “While buying patterns have changed as a result of the current economic challenges, smaller purchases made more frequently is one trend. We see volumes continuing to grow and this remains our expectation for the year ahead.
“While world food is a dynamic, ever-changing and fast-paced category, it is still small in the overall market, with plenty of headspace for growth. The journey continues!”
World food trends
❚ Indian makes up more than one-third of ambient ethnic world food and it remains the most popular world cuisine in the UK, followed by Mexican and Chinese. Indian world foods continue to evolve, with shoppers exploring new cuisines from across India and one in five people eating Indian at least once a week.
❚ Oriental cuisines are also gaining popularity and have the highest growth contribution to the overall ethnic world food category.
❚ Restaurant chains have let consumers explore tastes that may be new to them. Younger shoppers aged 16 to 34 are the most receptive to new cuisines.
❚ Flexitarianism will see growth. Currently 39% of world cuisine eaters are interested in products for use both with meat and in meat-free dishes.
❚ The second mega-trend influencing innovation in world foods is healthier eating, as purchase decisions are heavily influenced by the healthiness of products. In recent research, one third of world cuisine shoppers said they would like to see more products that include ideas on how to make dishes healthier. More are purchasing in convenience stores and they are more aware of nutritional benefits and ingredients used in products than ever before.