Be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to cultural sensitivity.
These days, it’s shaky ground out there when it comes to political correctness. And in the last couple of years, we’ve seen food become an area where consumers can be offended if they sense any grounds for cultural appropriation. Most recently. Andrew Zimmern, a food blogger, was criticized for sharing a photo of chopsticks next to Flipino short ribs - a knife and fork would have been the appropriate utensils.
In addition, we’ve seen Rick Bayless, white Oklahoma born and raised Mexican food chef field a great deal of negative commentary on how his approach is inauthentic and insulting to real Mexican culture and cuisine. And you may also remember a protest at Oberlin College a little over a year ago, when students claimed not only was their dining hall racist and incorrect in the preparation of ethnic dishes, but it was even more offensive because of how poor the taste and quality of the food was.
So how can you as food retailer avoid offending your customers by misrepresenting a culture? Get involved with educating your shoppers, and ask them to educate you.
According to a recent Mintel survey, almost half of Millennials dining out in restaurants want globally-inspired dishes, suggesting high interest in diverse ethnic offerings that will more than likely affect shopping choices and exploration of new and exotic ingredients as well as shape the growing palates of Americans.
As a retailer you can support that interest by offering cultural guides that not only educate shoppers on authentic preparation of dishes, but also how to authentically present these dishes.
For example, host a monthly spotlight on a particular culture. Ask your ethnic customers to get involved as well, and participate in educating the store’s employees as well as the shoppers. Here’s an example on how to approach:
It’s Peruvian Food Month at XXXX Store!
While the idea is to avoid offending customers, there are great benefits to acting proactively. As a retailer, you’ll learn more about your customers, and they will appreciate your desire to be culturally sensitive. And you will inspire new purchases from your customers looking to explore modern and diverse cuisines.