Buffets, junk food and Mexican themes could present opportunities for independent eateries to grow, says HELENA SPICER
As part of our new, regular foodservice market watch, Helena Spicer, senior foodservice analyst at Mintel will cover the key trends affecting eateries and what these mean to wholesale suppliers. Starting with a look at ethnic food trends, she reveals changing consumer habits in the market and what they mean to your foodservice customers.
Q: How big is the opportunity in the foodservice market that ethnic food presents?
A: The research for our report ‘Ethnic Restaurants and Takeaways’ (March 2013) shows that at least once a week, around 22% of consumers order an ethnic takeaway or home delivery, compared to 13% who eat in an ethnic restaurant.
Growth in this market continues to be hampered by its highly fragmented nature, skills shortage and lack of modernisation.
Competition from supermarket ranges is also particularly keenly felt by ethnic restaurants and takeaways: around a quarter of ethnic restaurant and takeaway users say that they’re buying more ethnic food such as cooking sauces and ready meals from supermarkets instead of eating at ethnic restaurants.
The lack of modernisation in many ethnic restaurants means that menus aren’t keeping ahead of innovations in the retail market, while the restaurant experience also continues to lag behind developments in the wider eating-out market.
Q: Which subcategories are driving growth the most?
A: The popularity of grab-and-go and fast/casual sushi outlets continues to be highlighted in confident expansion plans by operators such as Yo Sushi and Wasabi.
Mexican and Tex-Mex food is still a growth sector; however, the market is increasingly competitive, with new entrants and players such as Chimichanga expanding their portfolios.
The variety and accessibility of pan-Asian formats continues to drive the sector forward, while buffets continue to capture diners’ attention, using fixed-priced menus to tap into their continuing price-sensitivity.
Cuisine types such as Malaysian, South American, Caribbean, Indonesian and North African remain niche, although many consumers would like to try these venues.
Interest in some of these restaurants has been bolstered by the cuisines’ increasing popularity in the in-home market in recent years.
Q: What trends will we see over the next six to 12 months?
A: Operators have to balance consumers’ continuing low confidence with a growing sense of ‘recession fatigue’ and aversion to mediocre meals out. As a result, we’ve seen a growth in urban areas, such as London, in companies specialising in products, such as ramen, ceviche and bao. These specialist companies help consumers to become familiar with these niche cuisines.
The growing use of ethnic flavours in other cuisines can also help to increase familiarity with less mainstream ethnic cuisine types, such as Korean food.
For example, the trend towards gourmet junk food, such as fried chicken and hot dogs, has been a perfect area for the use of flavours from less familiar ethnic cuisines in order to create points of differentiation and drive interest.
For example, Bubbledogs, the gourmet hot-dog and champagne specialist outlet, offers variants that include Trishna Dogs, with mint, mango chutney and coriander, as well as K‑Dawgs, with kimchi, fermented red bean paste and lettuce.
Q: What opportunities do you see for independent outlets?
A: The ethnic restaurant sector lags behind the rest of the eating-out market in terms of proactively chasing footfall. For example, the ethnic restaurant market would benefit from being more proactive in giving consumers tangible reasons to visit and from increasing their relevance to other areas of consumers’ lifestyles.
For instance, in urban areas we’ve seen the growth in youth-oriented Mexican hybrid venues that use music and specialist bars as much as the food to appeal to younger consumers.
Meanwhile, new launches, such as the Thai Naamyaa Café all-day dining concept, allow ethnic operators to increase their relevance to a wider range of meal occasions.
Q: How important in this market are non-food items, such as innovative or unusual serving platters, equipment or point-of-sale material?
A: Concepts that tap into consumer demand for variety, such as small-plate formats, should help out-of-home operators to be more competitive with in-home options, according to our research. We have also identified that diners are increasingly looking for cues of quality – nearly half of the consumers we surveyed like to eat at ethnic restaurants or buy takeaways that feel authentic.