Britain has not lost its appetite for the exotic following the Brexit vote – in fact, driven by the street food trend, we may even be getting more adventurous tastes.
There are more than 2,000 street food businesses in the UK, according to the Nationwide Caterers Association, drawing customers to food trucks and open-air markets with the promise of everything from barbecue to banh mi.
These fun, casual food outlets encourage a sense of experimentation and there is evidence that they are causing Brits to try out new foods – changing the market for world foods, whether customers are eating out or cooking at home.
“There has been a major shift in the dining habits of UK consumers over the past decade and we now find that a majority of the population regularly consume ethnic foods,” says Lindsay Hill, marketing manager for Old El Paso at General Mills UK.
Research for Santa Maria Foodservice shows half of UK consumers are inspired by current street food trends when choosing what to eat outside the home.
So what are the cuisines that we crave? According to the Santa Maria research, the fastest-growing styles are Caribbean, barbecue, Spanish, Japanese and Vietnamese food.
Chinese, Thai and Indian continue to hold their places as familiar favourites in the top 10, although they have lost ground in the past two years.
What can we expect to see next year, though? Analyst Horizons’ Menurama survey suggests that American cuisine is the fastest-growing world food of all: “It is now the third most popular cuisine on UK menus,” says Matthew Mill, marketing lead at Kraft Heinz, which has launched its mac and cheese product in the UK to capitalise on the appeal of US dishes.
Mexican food is another cuisine rapidly growing in popularity with Brits: out- of-home consumption of Mexican meals rose by 71% last year, according to Old El Paso’s Hill, with the trend showing no sign of abating.
Brits are reportedly losing their taste for sandwiches, however – they were down 17% in popularity, according to the Santa Maria Foodservice survey. Burritos, along with tacos, carnitas and barbecue dishes, are surging in consumer appeal. Many diners also say that street food has helped them cultivate a taste for spicier food.
Eimear Owens, country sales manager for the UK and Ireland at Santa Maria Foodservice, says: “Street food is driving a spice revolution, creating interest in spicy food and pioneering new spicy flavours. The upshot is a more knowledgeable and adventurous consumer, and high demand for new eating-out experiences.”
Wholesalers serving c-store customers need to prepare their world foods ranges for 2017 with such trends in mind. Since consumers have acquired an expectation for more varied food when they go out, they are starting to want the same thing at home.
Jag Singh, marketing manager at Wanis Foods, which specialises in world foods, notes that it is a common pattern: “When people eat out of home and they enjoy what they have tried, they are more inclined to try to cook something different at home,” he says.
According to the Santa Maria survey, 39% of consumers say that they are inspired by street food when they cook at home, but most struggle to cook dishes that match the expectations they have. Thus, meal kits will continue to be prominent in the category in 2017.
“Consumers tell us that they are time-poor and hard-pressed to cook every meal from scratch, but still want a nutritious and tasty dinner,” says Santa Maria’s Owens.
“Our research shows that consumers are looking for shortcuts that make life a little bit easier, without resorting to ready-meals that make them feel guilty,” she adds.
Old El Paso’s Hill agrees: “Scratch-cooking continues to grow in popularity, and has contributed to the decline in ready meals, with home cooks looking for shortcuts that enable them to save time while still feeling like they are cooking from scratch,” he says. “This is why kits are so important to the consumer.”
Both companies have reached for meal kits as a solution that balances convenience with the freshness and perceived healthiness of cooking from scratch. Santa Maria has developed its Streat-at-home range, which is intended to offer a street food meal in a box. Meals include Jamaican jerk chicken & rice and pork carnitas, and each box contains individually-packed ingredients and a recipe card, so customers can prepare the food in the same way their favourite street food vendors do.
Meanwhile, Old El Paso’s Smoky BBQ Fajita Dinner Kit is the biggest-selling product in Mexican food. The company has also recently launched a range of Mini Stand ’n’ Stuff Tortillas – convenient, bite-sized tacos that respond to the trend for small-plate, shareable dining, such as tapas, which has increased in demand by 25% recently, with further growth expected next year.
“Consumers want to be able to recreate the exotic meals they have come to enjoy while dining out or discovered on holiday in the comfort of their own homes, providing a real opportunity for retailers,” says Old El Paso’s Hill.
It is not just home cooks who could use a helping hand to recreate the cuisines of the world – many professional chefs are also looking for ways to easily incorporate world-food flavours into their cooking, or to expand their menus in new directions.
Leon Mills, marketing manager for Knorr at Unilever Food Solutions, says that chefs want to be able to easily add new inspirations and authentic tastes to their food.
Knorr is trying to solve the problem with its range of professional pastes, which come in teriyaki, butter chicken and piri piri flavours, allowing chefs to add the perfect taste of Japan, India or Portugal without spending hours blending spices.
“Most chefs do not have the time to find new flavour inspiration for dishes that will help them stand out, let alone blend the perfect balance of spices required for an authentic taste,” he says.
Tom Styman-Heighton, Funnybones Foodservice
“Our tips would be to become the expert on your chosen cuisine so that you can sell from a position of confidence and knowledge. Know your customers and tailor your offering to their needs and demands, particularly when it comes to budget and service considerations.
“Keep abreast of the trends in your particular speciality and make sure your offering is consistent with what end consumers are looking for. You need to offer the tried and tested lines, but also watch out for the latest, the most fashionable trends and any products that are being featured on popular television shows and food blogs.”
Jag Singh, Wanis Foods
“The next big thing is going to be African foods – South African and West African. When you’ve got established communities and they open up their own eateries, that becomes more mainstream.
“The UK market is quite mature. Before it used to be an ethnic aisle or an ethnic section, now you can merchandise your hot sauce alongside your regular mayonnaise and ketchup. You don’t need a separate section, the shift is world foods becoming mainstream.
“One of the key things is to make sure you know who your customers are and to tailor your range and merchandising accordingly. Second, take advantage of events, whether it’s Eid, Diwali or Carnival. We see a real jump in sales for some products.”