ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- According to a recent study by Promar International here, ethnic food will account for one of every seven new food dollars in the decade ahead.
Sales of ethnic foods will increase by $25 billion, a growth of about 50%, the consulting firm says.
Selling ethnic foods means more than marketing to pockets of immigrants in urban areas. About 75% of ethnic food is already being purchased by the mainstream consumer, and that trend is expected to continue, the study said.
"It's becoming an increasing trend to specialize your merchandising toward specific ethnic groups," said Rich Savner, spokesman for Pathmark Stores, Carteret, N.J. "It's just not enough anymore to generalize Hispanics under one category. You need to be more specific, and you need to consider African- American culture as well."
The Promar study, called "Riding the U.S. Ethnic Food Tide: Strategies for Food Manufacturers Into the New Millennium," does not list African-American food as an ethnic category. According to Tracy Carlson, director of the strategic marketing group at Promar, ingredients for African-American cuisine are widely available, so the study did not include it in the ethnic category.
Pathmark has a number of supermarkets in urban areas from Philadelphia to New York, in neighborhoods that are culturally diverse. Pathmark is careful to distinguish among ethnic groups and not lump everyone under a generic, ethnic category.
"In New Jersey, Weehawken, Union City and West New York are bastions of [different] Hispanic subgroups that are growing all the time. Our merchandising certainly reflects the changing demographics in any area we operate in," he said.
The Promar study noted that cuisines range from established Italian fare to exotic Indonesian food, and tracking segments within the ethnic food market can be a complex task. A company must understand how cuisines will develop, identify the opportunities and act before others do, the study said.
The entire study, which can be purchased for $12,750, was conducted over a year by an experienced research team. Cuisine positioning within Promar's development model, for example, places Ethiopian cuisine at the far "exotic" end of the scale, with low sales volume. Caribbean food is on the border between exotic and "narrow," with higher sales, but still below all others but Ethiopian.
Korean is considered narrow, along with Vietnamese, Mediterranean, Japanese and Indian, in ascending order and getting closer, in that order, to the next category, called "expanding." Thai food is in the "expanding" category, and so is French, Chinese, kosher and Mexican, in ever-higher sales volume rank and closer to the "mainstream" category.
Italian is the only national cuisine that has made it to the U.S. mainstream, according to Promar, and its sales are the highest. Only in kosher foods did retail sales beat food-service sales, although Italian was close to evenly split.