BEDFORD, Texas — Minyard Food Stores is stocking thousands of new imported groceries in a vast international food department being tested in one store here.
The department spans 240 linear feet in the front of a 70,000-square-foot Carnival-banner store, adjacent to produce.
More than 3,000 dry groceries are merchandised in low-profile shelves. Most of the items are imported, and about two-thirds are new to Minyard's shelves, according to Bob Highsmith, the chain's marketing senior vice president. International products were previously stocked in an aisle toward the back of the store.
“We never had a lot of these items, such as Asian, German, South and Central American,” Highsmith told SN.
About 25 countries are represented, including Mexico, England, India and Germany. Flags from each country adorn the section. Selections range from Mexican cornmeal to rice mixes, canned vegetables, spices and soup mixes.
The Coppell, Texas-based chain plans to test a similar department in a Plano, Texas, unit that's being remodeled from the Sack 'N Save banner to Carnival. That department could open by January 2008.
Other international departments may follow if the two test sections perform well, said Highsmith.
Minyard is running the tests based on increased consumer demand for new and unique items, he said. Travel and restaurant visits are motivating consumers to purchase ethnic food items for home consumption.
“There's a lot happening with international food, so we thought we'd try something different,” he said.
The Bedford unit was chosen as the first test store because of its size and its diverse clientele, which includes a mix of Latino, African American, Indian, Asian and general-market shoppers.
While certain products will appeal to ethnic populations, Minyard is hoping the broad assortment will encourage crossover shopping among its mainstream consumer base.
“We want this to appeal to everyone,” he said.
To encourage product trial, the department contains recipe kiosks and sampling stations. Product demonstrations are conducted daily.
Opening the department was no easy feat, in light of the large number of product imports. Minyard's biggest challenge was in finding a supply source, said Highsmith.
The solution was to hire Distribution Plus Inc., an Evanston, Ill.-based distributor of gourmet, organic and ethnic products. Many other products are also being handled via direct store delivery.
The pilot comes at a time when retailers are giving more attention to ethnic foods. As reported in SN, H.E. Butt Grocery planned to start testing its first international aisle last month. The 72-foot aisle was slated to launch in an Austin, Texas H-E-B banner store.
Other retailers should follow Minyard's and H-E-B's lead, said Wendy Chan, president of Definity Marketing, a New York-based marketing consulting firm.
“International needs more than just a few shelves or one aisle,” she said. “That's almost a disservice.”
That's because international food is attractive to a wide variety of people in search of food excitement, she explained.
“There are many mainstream buyers who are looking for different tastes,” Chan said.
The popularity of international foods was evident in the increased number of international booths at this year's Fancy Food show, held in New York in July. Specialties from Argentina, for instance, accounted for 30 booths; Africa, 27 booths; Singapore, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Australia and Greece also had a strong presence at the show.
While Europe is the backbone of U.S. imports, other areas of the world are also making advances into the U.S. market.
About 25% of specialty food importers are bringing in foods from Asia and South America, while 15% are doing the same with Africa, according to “2007 State of the Specialty Food Industry,” a joint report from the National Association of Specialty Food Trade, Mintel International and SPINS.
And more than three-quarters (77%) of importers plan to expand into more countries, according to the NASFT study.