Tropical tastes

    Caribbean sauces and seasonings are spicing up the ethnic food aisle, writes LINDSAY SHARMAN


    “We stock more than two and half thousand ethnic food SKUs and our priority when it comes to retail is offering value so retailers can compete with multiples. We try to offer a good package of promotions and focus on price-marked packs. Our main area is Indian food and we stock everything from spices and condiments to lentils and rice – for both caterers and retail customers to use in their cooking at home.”

    Monty Wouhra,Director, East End Foods

    Ethnic foods, such as Chinese, Indian, Thai, Italian, Mexican and, more recently, Caribbean, are not only prevalent in restaurants across the country but in home cooking, too. And this means the category is big news for wholesalers.

    Sales of ethnic foods have increased by 28% since 2007, reaching £1.4bn in 2012, according to Mars Foodservice. Although Asian-inspired dishes continue to dominate the market, Caribbean foods are gaining pace and are now worth £77m, according to Nyree Chambers, head of marketing at Grace Foods. “It’s a big opportunity and it’s growing,” she says.

    Specialist ethnic food and drink distributor Wanis, a member of Today’s Group, has one cash & carry in east London and agrees that Caribbean food is particularly popular with independent retailers. Kapil Wadhwani, business development director, says: “Levi Roots opened up the market and with events like the Nottingham Caribbean Carnival raising awareness, people are starting to try something more exotic – like hot pepper sauce on chips.”

    Dhamecha is one wholesaler that’s doing well after increasing its range of Afro-Caribbean lines, realising that the category is being stocked by more independent retailers as a point of different, explains Wadhwani. But there’s still more that can be done. “For Easter, the staple product is bun and cheese – a spiced, honeyed bun like a fruit loaf, with traditional processed cheese in a bun. Retailers could sample this in-store to create interest.”

    “Fast food is our business and we’re aiming to develop sales within oriental restaurant and curry houses as we’re not particularly strong in those areas yet. The areas we’re working in are Chinese, Thai and Cantonese, and we’ve brought in products to cater to these, like a variety of prawns – tiny ones for special fried rice as well as the extra big ones – and specialist products like water chestnuts and pineapple pieces. We started with virtually nothing 18 months ago and now we’re into our second year – sales are very good.”

    Terry Larkin,
    General Manager, JJ Food Service

    Other trends influencing the ethnic food category include convenience and healthy eating. Products such as noodles that are quick to cook and healthy ready-meals are current developments from suppliers such as Amoy.

    “Healthy eating continues to rise and rise, becoming more popular with consumers who are better educated about the food they purchase, and its positive benefits and nutritional value,” says Helen Tarragano, marketing manager for Amoy.

    The Loyd Grossman range of ‘for one’ sauces, the top premium-branded cooking sauce from Premier Foods, reflects the trend for convenience among shoppers in the category. “It’s unlocking a very profitable opportunity for retailers by offering convenience and quality,” says Elliot Harris, Loyd Grossman brand manager.

    For caterers and foodservice customers addressing the out-of-the-home market, ‘street food’ concepts are proving popular. Sarah Branagan, category manager for sauces at Unilever Food Solutions (UFS), says: “Asian-inspired dishes remain one of the most popular cuisines to be eaten out of home, and with more consumers keen to try street-food concepts, it’s vital that chefs use the right sauces to deliver truly authentic dishes.”

    New for 2013 from UFS is the Italian Knorr Create More range – a concentrated sauce to use with water – and a collection of pastes and ready-to-use Tex‑Mex ­sauces.


    Whether your customers are retailers or caterers, category support is critical. Promotional activities like tastings and promotional analysis are key ways to drive sales. Sarah Gray, marketing manager for Mars Foodservice, says, “Look at what’s working and what isn’t, then talk to your suppliers about how they can help.” 
    Calorie calculatorUFS is offering catering customers free tools, including a calorie calculator for chefs as well as more than 800 recipes with full guideline daily amounts (GDA) information.

    Help your caterers to develop calorie-controlled meals with Unilever Food Solutions’ free calorie calculator here:


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    Lindsay Sharman is a former editor of Retail Newsagent, news editor of Retail Express and account manager in public relations for leading food and drink brands. Lindsay loves anything to do with the arts, including mid-century antiques, and cycles everywhere, even in winter


    1. Lentils are also commonly used in Ethiopia in a stew-like dish called kik, or kik wot, one of the dishes people eat with Ethiopia’s national food, injera flat bread. Yellow lentils are used to make a nonspicy stew, which is one of the first solid foods Ethiopian women feed their babies.;.-^

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