Consumers are broadening their palates and supermarkets are stocking more imported and domestically produced international foods.
There are few places in America with as “white bread” a reputation as Central Pennsylvania. So it may come as a surprise that one of the most popular departments in Karns Quality Foods’ new Carlisle store is the Eastern European Foods department across from the deli and bakery.
Its 20 linear feet, spread over six shelves, are chock full of Eastern European delicacies hailing from Yugoslavia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey and other countries. Maintained by importer Fine European Market out of Harrisburg, offerings include Pekmez od Sljiva (plum buttery spread), chocolate and vanilla stuffed croissants, Yugoslavian chocolates, beef goulash, elder soda, Croatian pork patty luncheon loaf and gallon glass jars of pickled cabbage leaves imported from Poland. In an adjacent case there are also a few frozen items and refrigerated meats, including the popular Kranjska smoked veal sausage and Pileca Sunkarica chicken roll.
“Our sales in this area have been just phenomenal,” says Scott Karns, president and CEO of Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based Karns Quality Foods, who adds that smaller versions of the department are now in four of Karns’ eight stores. “These are unique items that don’t conflict with anything else in the store.”
Astute retailers like Karns are stocking a wider array of international foods, and getting better at merchandising them to appeal to both ethnic and mainstream customers, say industry observers. While Karns is doing a bang-up job with Eastern European imports, many stores in other parts of the country are seeing growth from Hispanic groceries.
“The smart retailers are expanding where and how they sell tortillas,” says Toney Lynch, national sales manager at Ole Mexican Foods, based in Norcross, Ga. “That is because tortillas are outselling pastas and hot dog and hamburger buns.”
Lynch adds that many mainstream consumers are turning to tortillas to make heart-healthy wraps instead of using high-calorie bread or rolls.
The market leader in Hispanic foods is Goya Foods. Based in Secaucus, N.J., Goya manufactures, packages and distributes more than 2,200 foods from the U.S., Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America. Goya’s products include specialties such as sofrito, green pigeon peas, guava paste, tejocotes (jarred small golden apples indigenous to Mexico), piloncillo Mexican brown sugar, pacaya—the initial blossom of a variety of date palm tree that is favored by Guatemalans and Salvadorians, especially during Holy Week and All Saints Day, as well as mainstream items like canned corn and frozen mixed vegetables.
To further build sales beyond the ethnic aisle, last year Goya launched Goya Fiesta Baked Beans, available in original, jalapeno, vegetarian and chipotle flavors.
“We developed Goya Fiesta Baked Beans because nobody knows beans better than Goya and there is a market for Latin-infused flavors,” says Joseph Perez, senior vice president of Goya Foods. “According to studies, we found that over half of American households consume baked beans. Our products have generated a mass appeal among all nationalities that are looking for authentic, high-quality and affordable products.”
Hispanic influences are also finding their way into the salty snack aisle. San Francisco-based Classic Foods, for example, is marketing Risi Papas Caseras Kettle Chips, American-made potato chips seasoned with authentic Mexican chilies Habanero, Serrano or Adobadas.
“The Risi Papas Caseras family of brands brings together the heartland of Mexico’s cuisine using a variety of mouth-watering indigenous chilies from Mexico in four unique flavors,” says Roya Rohani, vice president of marketing for Classic Foods. “They target both Hispanic and American audiences. That is why the packaging is bilingual in English and Spanish.”
Although potato chips are the classic American snack, according to Rohani they have international appeal. “In Mexico potato chips are equally popular and they have the same flavors,” Rohani says. “The Risi brand was created to add new flavors, such as Serrano, for American and Hispanic audiences who have already tried Habanero and Adobadas. We like to think we put our own spin on it.”
Round Triangle Foods is putting its own spin on the salty snack aisle with Graffitos Chips, a multi-grain, zero trans fat and gluten-free salty snack. With packaging designed to grab attention, Graffitos Chips—available in Bacon, Smoky Bacon, Sea Salt, Naked and Lechón Asao (roasted pig)—are targeted to the teen market.
“Our Graffitos chips are mainstream, after all, bacon and smoky bacon are truly international flavors, but ours have a Caribbean/Latin twist, like roasted pig,” says Nitza Márquez, president of the Humacao, Puerto Rico-based company. “However, as we expand we are adding some more local flavors to our product mix. In a few months we will be debuting—this sounds nasty but is really delicious—a Cod Fish Fritters flavor. Cod fish fritters are a very popular dish in Puerto Rico and many Puerto Ricans living in the States are not able to enjoy them.”
Don Tropical Foods is importing a wide variety of Caribbean candy from Dulzura Borincana, a Moca, Puerto Rico-based manufacturer and distributor, including sesame seed candy and coconut candy packaged in bright green peggable bags. “I’ve been carrying the line for six months and my sales in this category have gone up 32%,” says Norberto Ramirez, president of Don Tropical Foods, based in Clifton, N.J. “That is because the presentation is key. That shiny packaging gives you an impulse to buy, and the product tastes really good so the customers comes back and buys it a second time.”
The same can be said when it comes to Coquito Sabroso. “Coquito is Puerto Rico’s traditional liquor, an egg nog-like drink made from coconut milk, brandy and the finest Puerto Rican rum,” says Jose A. Merino Alemañy, an account executive with Guaynabo, Puerto Rico-based Empresas Alemañy, who runs the company with his sister Alessandra. “We are getting a lot of media attention in the U.S. and we were recently featured in Allure.”
All Thai’d up
Latin American foods are not the only international area seeing growth. Authentic Asian cuisine is also on the upswing. Thai Kitchen, for example, recently launched a line of frozen single-serving meals that bring the unique flavors and aromas of authentic Thai style cuisine to any kitchen, according to company officials. Initial offerings in the line include Chicken Pad Thai, Chicken Green Curry, Chicken Red Curry, Vegetable Green Curry, Vegetable Red Curry, Spicy Thai Basil Chicken and Thai-style Rice Noodles & Chicken.
“Until recently, consumers were unable to find any Thai offerings in the freezer aisle, despite a growing demand for the cuisine,” says Stefanie Woodhouse, senior marketing manager, Simply Asia Foods, based in Hunt Valley, Md., and a division of McCormick. “As the leader in authentic Thai flavor, Thai Kitchen has filled the gap with its first-to-market frozen dinner offering.”
Woodhouse says the market is ready for a frozen Thai food line because Pan-Asian ethnic food is on the rise. “Many consumers are hesitant to try to make ethnic food from scratch, but enjoy the different flavor profiles,” she says. “Frozen ethnic food provides a low barrier to entry to these flavor profiles.”
Olia is bringing its own version of ethnic fusion to supermarket shelves. “We have a Coffee olive oil that is infused with coffee and has a coffee flavor,” says Nimrod Zaltzman, joint CEO for the Ness Ziona, Israel-based company. “It can be used for a dressing, on a dessert, for pasta and on a pasta salad.”
Olia’s other products include a sachet made with bay leaves and other herbs that is ideal for seasoning soups and casseroles, says Zaltzman. “Everything is grown in Israel,” he says. “It is handmade, and only one month a year when the bay leaves are fresh.”
The company is also marketing a line of olive oil geared to children. “We have two very mild varieties that have a low acidity,” Zaltzman says. “It is a good olive oil to start off with. You can give it to the toddlers with a teaspoon or mix it into their food.”
Holy Land water
Neviot Natural Mineral Water is sourced from a spring in northern Israel that begins 500 meters underground. “Our mineral water has a very unique mineral composition with a very high amount of calcium,” says Maayan Bronstein, development director, Neviot – Nature of Galilee, based in B.G. Airport, Israel.
Neviot is also looking to expand its fruit flavored waters more deeply in the U.S. “We are doing very well in the kosher markets in New York, Florida and California, but we want to go one step further and go into the mainstream stores,” she says.
The lightly flavored water is available in Apple, Peach, Grape and Strawberry Banana.
“It is very low calorie and high in vitamins. The result is a very nice delicate beverage that is easy to drink,” Bronstein says, adding that the line has more than 70% market share in Israel.
Look for Jordanian water to be springing up on U.S. store shelves too. Sama Food Industries is looking to enter the U.S. with its mineral water, packaged in 1.5-, .6- and .83-liter bottles. “We carry three certificates of certification, the NSF, considered the highest standard of quality; ISO 22,000, which is a combination between ISO and HACCP; and the Jordanian Quality Mark,” says Addelhamid Hashlamoun, analysis and development manager, at Amman, Jordan-based Sama Food Industries.
In addition to water, Sama also produces carbonated soft drinks, natural juice, energy drinks and non-alcoholic beer, packaged in 330 ml cans. “Our non-alcoholic beer is available in Classic and three flavors: Apple, Strawberry and Pineapple,” Hashlamoun says. “We are hoping it will sell well near colleges and universities.”