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    Ethnic Foods Reign in Popularity

    Ethnic populations continue to increase in the United States, and with this growth comes an expanding appetite for ethnic cuisines and food products.

    Ethnic populations continue to increase in the United States, and with this growth comes an expanding appetite for ethnic cuisines and food products. A new Mintel report shows sales of ethnic foods have climbed steadily since 2004, and are set to reach a record high of $2.2 billion in 2009. In addition, Mintel forecasts solid growth of nearly 20 percent from 2010 to 2014.

    The demand for ethnic products and their projected increase is being fed by U.S. census reports that the fastest-growing populations in the United States continue to be Asian and Hispanic.

    Census figures project the Hispanic population will account for 44 percent of the growth in the nation’s population (32 million Hispanics out of a total of 72 million people added to the total population).

    Mexican/Hispanic foods represent the largest segment of the ethnic foods market, with nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of sales. In fact, Mexican food has become so mainstream that it’s hardly considered ethnic anymore. Nearly six in 10 of Mintel’s respondents say they’ve cooked Mexican food in the past month. However, it’s the Asian and Indian food segments that are driving the marke’'s growth, with 11 percent and 35 percent growth, respectively, from 2006 to 2008.

    Census figures help illustrate this trend, revealing that the Asian population is the fastest-growing group across the country. This ethnic group is projected to have the greatest gains in the West, with an increase of 7 million persons (56 percent of the total added to the U.S. Asian population during 1995 to 2025) and in the Northeast, with an increase of 2 million.

    “Since 2005, there are over 1 million foreigners becoming legal permanent residents in the U.S. each year,” notes David Browne, senior analyst at Chicago-based Mintel. “This escalating group is influencing the American palate and piquing Americans’ interest in new cuisines.”

    The Nielsen Company’s consumer panel looks at the percentage of U.S. households that purchase various Mexican and Oriental products. The data reveals:

    --62.9 percent of U.S. households purchased Mexican sauce/salsa during the year ending June 27, 2009, spending an average of $12.50 annually
    --32.2 percent of U.S. households purchased )riental sauces at least once during the 52 weeks ending June 27, 2009, spending an average of $5.15 for the year
    --41.5 percent of U.S. households purchased single-food frozen Mexican entrees at least once during the 52 weeks ending June 27, 2009, spending an average of $18.95 for the year
    --41.8 percent of U.S. households purchased single-food frozen Oriental entrees at least once during the 52 weeks ending June 27, 2009, spending an average of $17.64 for the year.

    According to Mintel, income is one of the strongest predictors of ethnic food cooking. Ninety-two percent of respondents with household incomes higher than $150,000 have cooked ethnic food in the past month. Young adults are also among the most adventurous when it comes to global cuisines. Some 91 percent of respondents aged 18 to 24 have cooked ethnic food in the same time frame.

    In addition to the growing diverse population, a resurgence in cooking and product innovation is helping to drive sales. Due to the economic downturn, the growing popularity of cooking shows and a rise in international travel, more Americans are classifying themselves as “cooking enthusiasts,” and are having fun with cooking and experimenting with new flavors and foods.

    Just as most culinary trends, the move toward expanding ethnic cuisines is a byproduct of restaurants that have blossomed across the country, serving authentic “foreign” flavors for adventurous diners and new immigrant populations. Mexican food continues to be the fastest-growing ethnic dining trend, but as Americans have grown accustomed to the standard Tex-Mex style of eating -- even going so far as to have salsa replace ketchup as the most common condiment sold -- restaurants are now focusing on more authentic Mexican fare.

    Pan-Asian cuisine follows on the heels of the authentic trend. Instead of the standard Chinese food -- another staple of every American diet -- Thai and Vietnamese cuisines are now commonplace. Sushi is nearly mainstream -- you can find a sushi counter in nearly every supermarket today.

    Indian restaurants are also growing in popularity and numbers -- a predictable phenomenon when you consider that in the past 15 years, nearly a half-million Indians immigrated here. So, due to a combination restaurant trends, immigration influx and changing eating patterns to include more at-home dining, the time is perfect for a continued explosion of ethnic food sales.

    According to Mintel’s Browne: “Food manufacturers are answering the call of these new cooking enthusiasts by providing home cooks with ethnic sauces and seasonings to add with their own meat and vegetables, or taking it a step further with meal solutions and pre-made meal kits.”

    Two-thirds of respondents prefer to cook their ethnic meals “from scratch,” while the remaining third of consumers prefer ethnic foods that require less time and preparation, therefore opting for meal solutions or heat-and-serve meals.

    - Nielsen Business Media

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