Asian populations are increasing in the US and non-Asians are developing a taste for many traditional foods from the region, said S. Alan Walters, associate professor at Southern Illinois University’s department of plant, soil, and agricultural systems.
Walters is the principle author of a new study which found that Asian vegetables, such as napa cabbage and Asian eggplant, are becoming an integral part of the American diet. The research was based on two surveys to determine key attributes that influence Asian vegetable purchase decisions, including consumption habits and knowledge of preparation and use.
Food manufacturers should take note, according to Walters, who told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “I think that there is really an untapped market for processed or value-added Asian vegetables, especially in areas that have high Asian populations.
“However, foods differ between various ethnic groups of Asians, so an understanding of their food is really needed before these facilities start processing these foods on a large-scale for sale.”
He said that many such products can already be found in specialized food stores but it may be several years before these processed foods become common place.
Nevertheless, he added that the market for processed Asian vegetable products has the potential to increase several times during the next decade, which raises issues of supply.
Walters said: “Right now many of the Asian vegetables are produced in targeted areas such as California and Florida, and many are also imported into the US from other countries.
“This could possibly cause problems for food manufacturers that are hundreds of miles from where they are produced. Therefore, increased demand would possibly create a new market for many growers near processing facilities.”
The market for Asian both in the foodservice and retail sectors has reached more than $5 Billion per year in US sales, according to organizers of the All Asia Food expo, which is to take place on October 13-14, in Los Angeles. It highlighted a report from the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center which says that ethnic foods represent $1 out of every $7 spent.
Similarly, figures from Selig Center for Economic Growth show that Asian Americans will represent $670 billion in spending power by 2012, according to.
The study led by Walters said that the demand for Asian vegetables is rapidly increasing in the US thanks to increasing ethnic diversity in the population, a rapid rise in popularity of Asian cuisines, more emphasis on healthy and specialty foods, and increasing familiarity with the foods' culinary uses.
To gauge familiarity with a list of Asian vegetables, consumers were asked to complete a written survey as they entered two fruit and vegetable markets in Belleville, Illinois.
Less than 20 percent of the participants had tried bitter gourd, Chinese mustard, Chinese okra, Chinese winter squash, Chinese winter melon, Japanese snake gourd, kabocha squash, winged bean, and yardlong bean. But nearly half of the respondents had tried napa cabbage and Asian eggplant.
More than 80 percent consumed less than five pounds of Asian vegetables per year and ate them less than once per month but consumers expressed a strong interest to learn more about these vegetables.
Purchases of Asian vegetables were most often made at supermarkets (29.4 percent) and restaurants (28.1 percent), and much less at local markets (12.5 percent).
Asians as well as consumers with higher income levels were most likely to consume these vegetables but Walters said there was an opportunity to increase Americans' consumption of Asian vegetables by educating non-Asians about them. One suggestion was to have recipes at the point-of-purchase to increase the likelihood of consumers buying the vegetables.