Italian, Mexican and Asian foods have become so commonplace in the United States that they are hardly considered ethnic anymore, the market researcher said. But lesser-known ethnic foods, such as Japanese, Caribbean and Thai, have seen a surge in popularity. In 2010, Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) found a 230 percent increase in the number of new products containing ‘Japanese’ in the product description compared to 2009, a 150 percent increase in new foods described as ‘Caribbean’, and a 68 percent increase in Thai foods.
Senior analyst at Mintel David Lockwood said: "Italian, Mexican and Asian cuisine are the more mainstream, popular ethnic cuisines. But Thai, Caribbean and Japanese foods are seeing healthy growth, and consumers seem to be getting more comfortable with a wider variety of ethnic flavors."
Mintel’s GNPD results suggest that the trend for more exotic ethnic flavors now reaches beyond what consumers might try when they eat out at restaurants, as packaged food companies look to capitalize on the trend.
The market research organization said that one of the major drivers behind consumers’ appetite for more exotic flavors in the home is growing interest in television cookery shows, as well as access to media that feature foods that are popular in other countries. Twenty-six percent of consumers eating ethnic foods that are not common to their ethnic background said they had been inspired to try new flavors and ingredients after seeing them used on TV, or in newspapers and magazines.
Ethnically diverse populations within the United States are also a key driver, Mintel said, as 25 percent of those who have developed a taste for ethnic food said they did so because they live in ethnically diverse neighborhoods where different cuisines are readily available.
Other reasons for eating more ethnic foods include being inspired by cookbooks that include recipes that are popular in other countries (23 percent), and bringing back flavors discovered when traveling (18 percent).
Lockwood said: “Consumers are becoming more interested in trying out complicated ethnic dishes at home that would usually be prepared by a chef in a restaurant. Cooking programs, culinary magazines and recipe websites are an easy way to get more comfortable with ethnic food preparation."