One reason ethnic product launches are increasing, according to Mintel, may be the wide variety of outlets consumers can use to learn more about foods that aren't common to their ethnic background. Some 26 percent of ethnic food-lovers say they were introduced to a new cuisine by TV programs, newspapers or magazines. Other findings include: 23 percent of ethnic food users said they tried the items after reading cookbook recipes that included ethnic dishes; 18 percent said they grew to like ethnic fare after traveling abroad; and 25 percent said they were introduced to a new ethnic cuisine because of living in a culturally diverse neighborhood.
Mintel said these outlets are contributing to a trend called "professionalization of the amateur," in which consumers are more interested in doing things at home that would normally be done by an expert, such as preparing a complex ethnic dish. "Cooking programs, culinary magazines and recipe websites are an easy way to get more comfortable with ethnic food preparation," says Lockwood.
Changing U.S. demographics
"In the U.S., we are concentrating on the Hispanic market," says Phil Sprovieri, vice president of sales and marketing at Flavorchem Corp. (www.flavorchem.com), Downers Grove, Ill. "We believe the popularity of Mexican food has not yet peaked. What caught our eyes is that horchata and flan, available in restaurants, is not readily available to the general public."
In five to 10 years, 35-40 percent of teens will be Hispanic and, according to the U.S. Census, the Hispanic population is growing in every metropolitan area in the U.S.
"We're not doing tacos, but we are looking to develop new categories, including beverages," Sprovieri continues. "When you are in Guadalajara [he spends time there checking out trends] you see vendors along the side of the road with large jars containing horchata, tamarindo (tamarind), and limosa (lime) beverages. That's also what they serve in shopping plazas there. Los Angeles is the only city in the U.S. readily offering those beverages. We offer those flavors for milk and dairy products, and have added guava, mango, pina colada, and chocolate with cinnamon to our Hispanic line of flavors.
"On an industrial scale, processors can't go through the homemade techniques that add flavor nuances to any foods or beverages. We make distillates from botanicals to capture top notes. One of our customers wanted to make mojito mix. If you want a great mojito, you need to macerate fresh mint leaves to release the oils and green top notes to give the beverage an aroma and flavor as if it was freshly made," he adds.
"Other cuisines such as Far Eastern and Indian food are gaining attention as well," says Sprovieri. "Today you can find many options in Chinese convenience foods. Indian will be next because it's healthy, and ideal for vegetarians. Young folks today are tuned into variety; which we offer the industry along with imagination and research to help achieve the character, aroma and authentic flavors of these foods."
Colors add value
Among more sophisticated palates, authenticity is important. And a large part of establishing authenticity in a packaged food involves color.
"In the context of processed foods, today's consumer expects that a food or beverage product look minimally processed," says Steve Morris, commercial director of United States Food Colors at Sensient Food Colors (www.sensientfoodcolors.com), St. Louis. "Products must also be more natural, and that is achieved by using fewer, more simplified ingredients and natural colors. We help processors achieve an authentic appearance through the application of an extensive spectrum of stable natural colors."
Value-added products offering texture, taste or functional ingredients drive the yogurt market, and both Greek and French style yogurts are gaining popularity. "Color vibrancy plays an important role in yogurt products, and natural colors enhance what is lost during processing," says Emina Goodman, technical support manager for Sensient Food Colors' beverage and dairy group. "It is important that the color naturally represent the fruits or ingredients used. We provide natural colors that represent varietals like Meyer lemon or Mexican lime, as well as sophisticated blended ingredients like pomegranate-maqui berry."
The company's Microfine colors add color and premium sensory appeal to processed foods where it is important to visually highlight colors and authenticity of ingredients. They deliver plating characteristics commonly found in synthetic pigments in a natural color powder.