With Sriracha, shisito peppers and ginger once again topping the list for the hottest food industry trends, it’s clear that Asian and Latin-inspired flavors have truly gone mainstream in the United States. Shifting demographics, coupled with Millennials’ preferences for global flavors, are driving a major shift in ready-to-eat (RTE) foods, fast-casual concepts and even grocery store offerings. From breakfast tacos to sushi, Latin American and Asian foods are in-demand, RTE staples for Millennial grocery shoppers. Is your brand prepared to capitalize on this major shift in food consumption?
“Ethnic Food” Goes Mainstream: How Asian and Latin Flavors Became Dietary Staples
With the U.S. Census Bureau predicting that minority populations will soon be the majority in the United States, America’s food habits reflect this profound demographic shift.
From 2000 to 2013, Asian Americans were the fastest growing ethnic minority in the United States, slightly edging out Hispanic growth (56 percent versus 53 percent). By 2050, the U.S. Census predicts the Asian population will increase by 115 percent, hitting 34.3 million. While the Hispanic population is projected to grow slightly slower (88 percent), the Hispanic population will top 101 million by 2050 and continue to be America’s largest minority group, reports Wendell Cox in New Geography.
As minority population growth explodes in the United States, this epic growth is also impacting flavor profiles. It’s not just about tacos and sushi, argues FutureCast, which tracks Millennial marketing trends. Millennials swoon over global flavor profiles, especially when meals feature fresh, local ingredients paired with global spices. Dubbed the “foodie generation,” Millennials are “the ‘tastemakers’ when it comes to what we put in our mouths, where we buy it and how we want it packaged,” says FutureCast.
Technomic Consumer Research Manager Anne Mills agrees. “Millennials are much more adventurous in their food choices [than previous generations]. Dining out is entertainment for them—and part of the entertainment is trying something new.”
Mills emphasizes that Millennials consider their food preferences to be for “global cuisine” rather than “ethnic cuisine,” an important semantic distinction. Cultural diversity is par for the course with Millennials, who often grew up eating home-cooked dishes that reflect their cultural heritage, were raised in interracial marriages or simply are used to having friends from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. As a result, Millennials have been exposed to different cultures and cuisines throughout their lives and they expect to readily find food trends like Sriracha and shisito peppers on restaurant menus and in grocery store aisles.
How the Food Industry is Innovating Meeting Global Cuisine Demands
Despite population growth forecasts predicting a major opportunity for specialty food segments, especially with Hispanic grocery shoppers, mainstream grocery stores have been slow to respond. Walmart, for example, tested a specialist store concept called “Supermercado” and “Mas Club,” but ended up folding these concepts back into the chain’s core offerings. Grocery store chain H-E-B, which has a major presence in Texas, continues to offer H-E-B’s Mi Tienda. Specialty chain stores, like Fiesta Mart and Northgate Gonzalez Market, have enjoyed greater regional growth. Given Millennials’ food and shopping preferences, however, specialty chains may be missing the mark.
“A Millennial Latino doesn’t consider Latin food to be ethnic, and neither should we,” argues Gordon Food Service.
Millennial grocery shoppers expect to purchase their global cuisine, such as kimchee, probiotic Greek yogurt and Indian curry mix, all from the same store. Rather than launching specialty stores aimed at a specific ethnic group, grocery store chains may be best served by simply expanding their global cuisine staples. Grocery stores also need to re-think their narrow definition of “global” cuisine to go beyond boomer-approved staples like Mexican, Chinese and Japanese. Embracing contemporary global influencers—Thai, Korean, Brazilian and Peruvian—and offering these foods alongside traditional grocery store items are two major food industry trends to watch in the coming year.