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Julie Henderson, VP Communications at the Harrisburg, Pa.-based National Association of Frozen and Refrigerated Foods (NFRA) sees a lot of potential in the area global cuisine.
"The Mintel Group estimates that between 2012 and 2017, sales of ethnic foods in grocery stores will grow more than 20 percent," Henderson notes. "Mintel predicts Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods will increase the most in that time in terms of dollar sales."
Given the rosy outlook of these segments, "now is the prime time for retailers to capitalize on this popularity, as consumers seek to expand their culinary horizons and try new products," she asserts.
What's behind this surge in interest? Henderson attributes it to factors such as the "more than 20 percent of America embracing the Hispanic background." What's more, she observes: "New ethnic flavors are all the rage with consumers -- they are always looking for the next trend. A survey from Mintel found that 57 percent of consumers say they are adventurous eaters, while 82 percent claim to be open to trying new flavors, especially when they see their friends (via social media) or chefs on TV and the internet cooking or enjoying foods using these flavors."
One example she offers is "sriracha, a Thai hot sauce … made from fermented chili peppers, and … a popular trend that many restaurants and manufacturers are taking advantage of. Other spicy flavors, such as jalapeno and chipotle, have been widespread favorites in recent years as well."
As for the next big ethnic flavors, Henderson cites Kelly Hensel, senior digital editor at the Chicago-based Institute of Food Technologists, who believes that smoky and bold flavors could gain in popularity, including such regional ingredients as harissa, za’atar, cardamom and sumac, among consumers seeking authenticity in their foods.
Manufacturers of frozen and refrigerated ethnic foods, for their part, have their own candidates for future popularity. Joe Perez, SVP of Secaucus, N.J.-based Goya Foods, anticipates "further explorations into the vast and varied Latin American cuisines. We’ve just scratched the surface with Mexican, Cuban, Peruvian -- a world of flavor remains to be discovered from Colombia, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, etc."
Citing the National Restaurant Association's "2015 Culinary Forecast," which named Peruvian and Southeast Asian among the top trending cuisines, Yoko DiFrancia, manager, PR and marketing for Garden Grove, Calif.-based House Foods America Corp., observes, "Peruvian may be a bit too unknown for the mainstream consumers, but Southeast Asian, such as Thai and Vietnamese, have been very popular choices."
Along with manufacturers, "retailers, wholesalers and distributors have to keep a close watch on consumer trends and desire for ethnic food in the marketplace," advises Henderson.
Ways that NFRA has helped capitalize on consumers' growing curiosity about global cuisines include an e-cookbook from The Mr. Food Test Kitchen, a partner of the trade organization. According to Henderson, the online item "features six menus from around the world to turn convenient frozen foods into gourmet."
A key element in getting consumers to buy frozen and refrigerated ethnic foods is attractive packaging. This means not only eye-catching design and superior functionality, but also details that resonate with likely purchasers’ aspirations and values.
"Café Spice is switching to a new look for our packaging, one that is more colorful and vibrant," notes Payal Malhotra, VP of the New Windsor, N.Y.-based purveyor of heat-and-eat soups and entrées, whose recently introduced line of artisanal soups, once exclusive to Whole Foods Market, is now available at a wide range of retailers. "For Whole Foods, we are introducing a sleeve with a Whole Planet Foundation scan back. The sleeves for our chicken dishes will show that our chicken is GAP (Global Animal Partnership) rated. By using the sleeve, combined with a transparent package, purchasers can see how fresh our product is. Our new packaging more clearly indicates with icons whether the product is mild, medium or spicy, and whether it is vegetarian, vegan or contains meat. All of our packaging contains no BPA and is recyclable."
"After we have made the best product possible, we believe we need the best package possible to represent it," asserts Jack Acree, EVP of Stamford, Conn.-based American Halal Co., maker of the Saffron Road brand of frozen global offerings. "Our packaging looks very clean and makes the food the ‘hero.’ It also makes 'ethnic' less scary to those consumers that might be on the fence [about buying it], and makes it an easy purchase decision."
Ethnic and Organic
Michael Angelo’s Gourmet Foods has launched a Quality Assurance International-certified Made with Organic line, featuring some of its most popular natural single-serve frozen meals, only now with at least 70 percent organic ingredients. Among the varieties in the new line are Lasagna with Meat Sauce and Eggplant Parmesan, all featuring more organic ingredients than previously.
"When you take one of our Made with Organic meals home, you can be proud of your dining choices; there are no preservatives, no additives or fillers, just clean, real ingredients," notes founder and CEO Michael Angelo Renna, who started the Austin, Texas-based company more than three decades ago with his mother, Sara, in the family's pizzeria.
According to Renna, the new line was created in response to consumer demand for food offering what he calls "the health benefits and peace of mind associated with organic ingredients."
Another organic player in the ethnic space is San Francisco-based PJ's Organics, a maker of hand-rolled frozen burritos. The brand's latest product is the Bean & Cheese Burrito, launched exclusively in Northern California Costco club stores in January. In addition to being organic, the non-GMO, preservative-free item contains 21 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber.
"This is a great way to showcase PJ's Organics offerings, which are full of flavor and filling enough to satisfy anyone looking for a quick and easy meal," says Matt Materazo, U.S. president of ADF Foods, parent company of PJ's.
Also debuting at Costco is Red's Organic Chicken & Cheese Burrito, which last month became available for a limited time at the Issaquah, Wash.-based warehouse club retailer's locations in the Midwest. The frozen burrito, which comes in an 8-count-package, features 14 grams of protein and is made entirely with non-GMO ingredients.
"We want to deliver on our slogan 'We make the best burrito, period' by offering the highest-quality, best-tasting burritos at a competitive price," asserts Mike Adair, founder and CEO of Nashville, Tenn.-based Red's Natural Foods.