The rise of the import

28ctChickenCornTaqBox40150As consumers embrace new flavors from around the globe, retailers need to be ready for the next big thing. 

Keeping up with the latest eating trends can be difficult. However international foods are an area that is hot, with no signs of slowing any time soon.

“People are touring the world one meal at a time through more adventurous cuisine choices. Today, 62% of adults who have eaten ethnic foods say they are confident in their ability to prepare it,” says Jennifer Zegler, consumer trends analyst for Chicago-based Mintel.

There is not just one culture or ethnicity driving the growth of ethnic foods at retail, industry observers say. For example, consumers’ interests are impacted greatly by current events like the Winter Olympics recently held in Sochi, Russia and the upcoming FIFA World Cup being played in Brazil this summer.

Much of the push toward international cuisine is also coming from younger generations. As the members of Generation Z and Millenials get older, their influence will have a major impact on the country’s eating behavior, say observers. Seeing as Hispanics make up a growing percentage of these generations, their preferences and opinions will prove invaluable to retailers in the coming years.

“Generation Z, Millenials and Hispanics will be the growth drivers of this country’s eating patterns over the next five years,” says Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for the Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group. “This is a pivotal time to gain their favor as many of their habits are being formed now. Most are still at a life stage when their behaviors are flexible and they are receptive.”

Observers believe that the power of the younger generations will not end with Millenials. Mintel’s research shows that these new cuisines are also winning over a traditionally picky demographic—children—as 66% of ethnic food eaters who are parents say their children enjoy eating ethnic or international food as well.

The proliferation of ethnic foods and international flavors will not be contained to one category, observers say, instead making a mark in everything from fresh to frozen.

Ruiz Foods manufactures a variety of products under its El Monterey brand. Its newest frozen item, Shell Shockers Taquitos, marries a traditional Mexican item with bold flavoring on the outside.

“After noticing the growing popularity of seasoned salty snacks, we envisioned a taquito with seasoning on the outside,” says Rachel Cullen, president and CEO of Ruiz Foods, based in Dinuba, Calif. “When we asked consumers what they thought, they told us the idea was spot on with their desire for bolder, more exciting flavor experiences as well as variety.”

Shell Shockers Chicken Taquitos are available in two flavors: Jalapeno Ranch and Nacho Cheese.

“Consumers are looking for quality, great taste and value in foods that offer convenience and ease in preparation,” says Cullen.

Staying close to their roots
While mainstream manufacturers begin to make inroads with ethnic foods, there are plenty of brands that have been focusing on their culture since the beginning. Ramar Foods’ Magnolia ice cream brand specializes in unique Asian flavors for its frozen treats.

“When we founded the Magnolia brand in the 1970s, our primary customers were of Asian descent. Our line-up of milkbars are very unique to those cultural flavors, especially the Halo Halo flavor,” says P.J. Quesada vice president of marketing and third generation owner for the Pittsburg, Calif.-based company.

Halo Halo is a traditional Filipino summer treat featuring a blend of coconut, jackfruit, azuki beans and purple yam. Magnolia decided to turn this cultural favorite into a milkbar by blending all these ingredients together with sweet cream.

“We translated that into a frozen novelty that captures the essence of the original dessert, and we’re seeing that become a lot more popular, because ethnic and Asian flavors are becoming very popular. It is tropical in its essence, but it’s also very Asian in its roots.”

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