CHICAGO -- Ethnic food preparation and consumption has been on the rise over the past several years and according to Mintel's latest research, it will continue its growth – but what's most important to consumers when it comes to their favorite ethnic fare? Authenticity. Two-thirds of Mintel respondents who eat ethnic food at home say authentic or traditional flavors are the most important factor when buying or eating ethnic food.
"If flavor fanatics are going to spend their hard earned money and time visiting an ethnic restaurant or buying international foods to prepare at home, increasingly, they want it to be the real deal," said David Browne, senior analyst at Mintel. "Therefore, products positioned as such have a greater likelihood of finding favor with consumers."
Aside from an authentic flavor, ethnic foodies also place importance on all-natural (49 percent), premium/gourmet or artisanal (49 percent) and reduced fat (48 percent) positional claims, which round out the top characteristics overall that matter in the purchase decision.
"This interest in genuine ethnic fare aligns with a broader consumer trend, 'The Real Thing,' where we see consumers continually set a higher bar for what they consider authentic," said Alexandra Smith, director of consumer trends, Mintel. "Today's American has much greater exposure to diverse cultures than an American 20 years ago. And as once-exotic things like sushi or yoga become mainstream, we seek new, more niche markers of cultural authenticity."
When making ethnic fare at home, 70 percent of Mintel respondents say they made Italian food in the past 30 days. However, Italian food has become so commonplace in the U.S., it is hardly considered ethnic anymore. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of people have made Mexican food, followed by 46 percent who whipped up a Chinese creation. Twenty-nine percent of home cooks felt like one type of food wasn't enough and decided to go "fusion"… mixing elements from various culinary traditions while not fitting specifically into any.
Meanwhile, a full 81 percent of respondents say they ate ethnic food away from home in the month leading up to the survey, a six percentage-point increase from 2010. According to Mintel Menu Insights, the five most popular ethnic cuisine menu items in restaurants at the end of last year's third quarter were Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Pan-Asian and Japanese.
Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food saw robust growth in the past year and both are expected to continue to gain in popularity in the future, likely due to food provider Sabra, as well as a healthy and convenient positioning.
"Consumer interest in healthy eating and convenience food contributes to the growth seen in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern categories," adds David Browne. "The growing popularity of pre-packaged hummus and Greek-style yogurt mixed with the deli salad case offering chickpea, tabbouleh and orzo salads is giving this cuisine a healthful and easy edge on the competition."