Asian noodles hold promise, but consumer education is needed, Packaged Facts says

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Related tags: Nutrition

Despite hitting spot-on several major trends driving food sales today, Asian noodles are struggling to gain traction in the US because many consumers are unaware of, daunted by or have misconceptions about them, according to a new report from Packaged Facts. 

“Generally speaking, consumers seek culinary variety and are open to change (as long as that change is not seismic), and have become more adventurous over time”​ – paving the way for more consumers to eat Asian noodles, which are “the perfect vehicle to encourage consumers to try new things and explore variety,”according to the report​ released in December. 

Indeed, Packaged Facts found 58% of adults agreed they are like to try new recipes and 53% like to try new food products. Likewise, about a third said they strongly agree that they are interested in other cultures and enjoy eating foreign foods while 26% often try different foods from other cultures.

“This means that there’s a strong core audience ready to explore innovation inspired by ethnic cuisine,”​ according to the report. But, it says, in order to take advantage of this opportunity, manufacturers must overcome a substantial stumbling block: Most Americans have very little knowledge or understanding about Asian noodles.

“Nearly a third say they don’t know anything about them and 55% indicate modest knowledge at best,”​ and what they do know – or perceive to know – often is negative or off-base, according to the report.

Specifically, it notes that many Americans either associate Asian noodles with fast-cooking, convenience-focused varieties that are packed with sodium and MSG and are popular on college campuses, or as an element of an authentic dish that requires a fair amount of culinary expertise, noodle knowledge and specialty ingredients.

While both these perceptions are true to an extent of some Asian noodle dishes, Packaged Facts notes “there are a dizzying number of Asian noodles available” ​that cater to a wide variety of nutritional needs, cooking skill and price points.

The problem is few are accessible in mainstream grocers.

“Packaged noodle marketers need to increase in-store marketing efforts to expand offerings in the ethnic aisle,”​ the report suggests. But to secure a spot on store shelves for the long-term, manufacturers also must increase velocity through “samplings and in-store demos designed to demystify the idea that preparing an Asian noodle dish requires culinary know-how,”​ the report adds.

It also suggests that manufacturers explain noodle origin to create a sense of authenticity and provide culinary inspiration such as through on-pack recipe ideas, which make initial trial less intimidating. Through careful recipe selection, manufacturers can easily tie Asian noodles to the growing consumer interest in healthy cooking and eating, which is driving food sales overall.

Take advantage of healthy eating trend

Manufacturers can further tap into the healthy sales trend by calling out when their products are low in sodium and MSG free – which Packaged Facts found were the most important health attributes to current consumers of the category.

Other no/low/reduced claims also resonate well with these shoppers, including 24% who said they look for no trans fat, 22% who want low fat and 20% who want noodles free from preservatives and artificial ingredients.

While not directly health related, Asian noodles also are well positioned to benefit from the gluten-free trend, given many varieties are made from ingredients that are naturally gluten free, including rice, yams and mung beans. In this regard, Asian noodles could scoop up some of the lost sales of Italian noodles made from wheat if properly positioned, the report suggests.

Emphasize convenience

Packaged noodle manufacturers also can boost sales by touting quick preparation and cook times, according to the report, which found a third of consumers who have eaten Asian noodle dishes at home in the past month said ease of prep was important and 21% said they valued short cooking times.

In addition, about a quarter of consumers said they want single-serve packaging and a third said they want family-size or bulk packaging – both of which offer convenience to different types of shoppers, the report found. It also found 18% want microwavable options.

Prioritize premium

To overcome negative health associations with well-known, fast-cooking ramen noodles or instant products, Packaged Facts recommends packaged Asian noodle manufacturers promote premiumization and authenticity “to broaden the reach of these products become the dorm room.”

Specifically, it found, among consumers who eat Asian noodles at home, 25% say premium product is an important attribute and 20% say authenticity is important.

“Brand positioning and product packaging play a significant role in presenting brands as premium and authentic,”​ the report said. “Key marketers include company origin (an increasing number of Asian-based companies are marketing their products in the US), brand positioning (specializing in Asian cuisine), and product packaging (Asian influenced design).”

Watch price point

Price is another a key driver in Asian noodle use for home preparation, and a notable differentiator between packaged noodles and dishes prepared at restaurants, with 38% of consumers saying this is the top attribute they look for when seeking a packaged brand.

One way to balance the demand for low price point, convenience, flavor diversity and health is to take advantage of the rising demand for “bowls,”​ the report suggests.

“In terms of convenience, bowls are perfect for dining on the go or at a desk,”​ they also are quick prep and no mess, the report notes. They also are an alternative to bread heavy sandwiches, can easily be customized with healthy ingredients and have a relatively low price point.

In addition, bowls could help manufacturers reach new users, especially younger consumers who readily identify with the bowl concept, and those who want to try something new but may be unwilling to invest significant time and resources to make a full meal from scratch, it adds.

With these strategies, Packaged Facts suggests packaged Asian noodle manufacturers can fully seize the growth opportunities that lay within current consumer eating trends. 

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