Melting pot for a world of tastes

May 17, 2012

Shaping demand for ethnic foods: the rise in intermarriage, growth of Hispanics and Asians, and greater presence of ethnic foods in school cafeterias and college dining halls.

Several diversity trends point to higher demand for ethnic foods in supermarkets. To win over American consumers, these ethnic foods will need to be authentic rather than pale domestic versions that merely hint at the palatable pleasures of international cuisines.

Different influences emerge in these trends. One reconfigures households and the foods eaten in them. Others make the nation more familiar with an array of ethnic foods, either through growth of certain population segments or the serving of foods from around the world in school cafeterias and college dining halls. F3 says they all point to the need for supermarkets to ramp up their authority in international foods and dietary practices. They include:

•    Intermarriage is on the rise. “About 15% of all new marriages in the United States in 2010 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another, more than double the share in 1980 (6.7%),” says Pew Research Center. “Among all newlyweds in 2010, 9% of whites, 17% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 28% of Asians married out.” That pushed the intermarriage percentage of all married couples, regardless of when they married, to 8.4%, an all-time high that far surpasses the 3.2% of 1980.

•    Recent newlyweds who married in and married out had similar combined annual incomes between 2008 and 2010—$55,000 married in vs. $56,711 married out. They generally have similar resources to spend on food, though Pew details income further based on specific ethnic and racial intermarriage combinations.

•    The growth of Hispanic and Asian populations in the United States continues. By the year 2050, Hispanics are projected to account for 30.2% of the total U.S. population, up from 16.0% in 2010, and Asians will account for 7.8%, up from 4.6% in 2010, said the U.S. Census Bureau. These forecasts follow a decade in which the Hispanic population rose 43.0% to 50.5 million in 2010, and the Asian population grew 43.0% to 14.7 million in 2010.

•    Today’s school-age children are growing up exposed to food diversity: a new School Nutrition Association survey shows most school cafeterias in America offer Mexican and Asian dishes, and many experiment with Middle Eastern, Greek, Kosher/Halal and Indian foods.

•    College dining halls also serve foods from many cultures, and help refine students’ palates as they prepare for adulthood. The campus dining experience influenced where 44% of students decided to attend, said a 2011 Technomic study.

The upshot?

“Today’s American has much greater exposure to diverse cultures than an American 20 years ago. And as once-exotic things like sushi or yoga become mainstream, we seek new, more niche markers of cultural authenticity,” says Alexandra Smith, director of consumer trends, Mintel, which recently issued these insights:

•    Two-thirds of consumers who eat ethnic food at home say ‘authentic or traditional flavors’ is the most important factor when buying or eating it.

•    Also important to them:  all-natural (49%); premium, gourmet or artisanal (49%); reduced fat (48%).?