Cuisine culture

Ethnic foods have been one of the major success stories for wholesalers over the past 40 years, with it developing from a niche business serving ethnic restaurants and communities to a major mainstream business that Datamonitor estimates will be worth pound;3.4bn by 2009.

While many wholesalers stock a range of products for retailers and caterers, some such as East End Foods, Bestway and Wanis have gone further developing import businesses which have gone on to supply authentic products to many other wholesalers.

Wanis operates a cash and carry, but about 70% of its business is involved in supplying more than 200 other wholesalers and cash and carries. Sanjay Wadhwani, managing director of Wanis, explains: “As the largest supplier of Caribbean food and drink with a turnover of more than pound;30m, we are seeing year-on-year sales increases in double digits.” Caribbean food is some way behind some of the other ethnic cuisines in the size and maturity of its sector, but Wadhwani says: “Caribbean food is moving swiftly out of the solely ethnic category into the mainstream as consumers develop a taste for the sector. This is being supported by the increased availability of Caribbean ready meals in retail and exposure in the media that is increasingly supporting the sector.”


The biggest single category within the ethnic food sector is rice, which can be an igredient or accompaniment with almost every type of meal. Traditionally long grain rice has held the greatest share of the dry rice market, but figures from ACNielsen for the year ending December 30th show that Basmati now accounts for more than 48% of the value of the dry rice market, having grown by 13% in volume and 8% in value over the last two years.

Tilda is working to promote Basmati rice in both foodservice and retail. In foodservice its range includes Easy Cook Basmati and Brown Basmati in a range of sizes, and frozen rice packaged in individual 200g portions for added convenience. In the pound;120m retail dry rice market, Tilda holds a 35% value share of Basmati and is the number one dry rice brand.

Veetee is another major player in the rice market. Chief operating officer Tony O’Connor says: “The out of home rice category comprises three different types – ambient, chilled and frozen. The frozen dominates mainly due to the convenience and portion control it offers. At Veetee Foodservice we specialise in ambient – the second largest part of the out of home rice category – as we believe we can offer products with the best flavour, quality and consistency.

“Authenticity is key. Travellers to the popular resorts of Thailand get a real taste for Thai cuisine, and return from their holidays wanting to re-create the exotic eating experience. As such, Thai Fragrant Rice has become more appealing. In fact, Veetee has seen an increase in sales for all of its speciality rices.

“For example, in North America and Mexico, Long Grain is the most popular variant, especially served with steak. Mexican dishes typically use a lot of rice to make their paellas.

“Long Grain is also the preferred rice accompaniment for Portuguese dishes, whereas Italian cooking prefers the Arborio variety to make its celebrated risotto dishes, which are mainly cheese or shellfish based.”

Multiple regions

While some suppliers concentrate on a single region, others offer flavours covering several. In the foodservice sector, Major International has developed its Mari-Base marinades range, available in 12 flavours, to enable chefs to create recipes from around the world. It has also recently received Halal certification for its UK manufacturing plant alongside a range of 10 stock bases and 10 Mari-Base marinades.

Commenting on the certification, David Bryant, managing director of Major International, says: “Our aim is to create products that make caterers’ lives simpler and in today’s multi-cultural society it is important and only right, that we think about the different social and religious requirements of the consumer. For those customers who don’t necessarily need Halal products it is a reassuring sign of quality.”

In the retail sector, another supplier straddling borders is Uncle Ben’s which supplies wet cooking sauces for Oriental and Mexican cuisine. The company supplies nine sauces within its Oriental range and the Chinese New Year is the focus of much of the company’s promotional activity in this sector.

New recipes have been introduced in its Mexican range and brand manager Lorraine Dunbar says: “We are always looking for ways to develop our recipes. We recently improved our chilli con carne recipe, so it now is even closer to the authentic Mexican flavour. Chilli is one of the favourite rice meals in the UK and through ongoing communications with our consumers we understand they welcome this convenient, tasty and healthy alternative to cooking it from scratch.”

Single regions

Another solely Mexican range with listings in Booker, Bestway, Nisa-Today’s and Landmark is Old El Paso. Andy Foweather, sales director for General Mills UK, manufacturer of Old El Paso, says: “Mexican broke the pound;100m sales barrier in October 2006 and is already worth over pound;103m, proving that the category is at an all time high with sales momentum flourishing. It’s growing at 14.2% year on year, so there’s never been a better time for wholesalers and cash and carries to increase the size of their ambient Mexican offering in their depots.”

Oriental cooking is in higher demand than ever according to a poll carried out by Heinz Foodservice, which found 60% of consumers chose Chinese over Indian as one of their favourite dishes. The company supplies Amoy Soy Sauce and Terry Tan, development chef for Heinz Foodservice, advises: “Soy Sauce is the number one ingredient I would recommend wholesalers should stock. Whether you are talking about the foodservice or retail market it is a kitchen staple, allowing the professional chefs and home cooks to employ limitless ingenuity.”

Along with Soy Sauce the Amoy range also includes a variety of noodles, cooking sauces, ingredient sauces, prawn crackers and fortune cookies in a variety of pack sizes.

Another supplier to the Chinese foodservice market is Cherry Valley. Rod Burrows, marketing manager at Cherry Valley, says: “Eighty six per cent of all Chinese restaurants serve duck on the menu. Indeed 33% of Chinese restaurant meals are served with duck as a key ingredient, which means wholesalers should be looking to capitalise on this trend by stocking a range of duckling products.”

The company has recently launched two new Chinese products, specifically targeted to the wholesale market. The Crispy Peking Duck pack, containing one whole Peking-flavoured boneless roast duck with pancakes and hoisin sauce, is aimed at caterers who do not specialise in Chinese cuisine but are looking to offer the authentic Chinese dish. The Oriental Duck meal selection consists of two Duck in Plum and two Duck in Hoisin meal pouches. Slices of roasted aromatic duck breast are served with Chinese style vegetables in either a tangy plum sauce or hoisin sauce.

The Authentic Food Company has joined forces with 3663 to develop a new premium curry range. Exclusive to 3663 for 12 months, the six new dishes are inspired by various regions across India. They are: Chicken Makhani, Kadai Chicken, Lamb Chetttinadu, Prawn Balchao, Chick Pea Masala and Bombay Potatoes.

Nik Basran, group marketing manager at The Authentic Food Company, says: “The industry in general has witnessed little in the way of new product development, and with consumers becoming increasingly adventurous, seeking more unusual, specialty flavours, we decided it was time to set a new standard for high quality, easy to prepare Indian dishes.”

Sharwoods, another brand specialising in East Asian cuisine, has also been extending its range, adding Fine Egg Noodles, Mini Puppodums, Spiced Puppodums and Bengal Spice Mango Chutney. Commenting on the new additions, Phil Cumming, head of marketing at RHM Foodservice, says: “Consumers just can’t seem to get enough of East Asian cuisine at the moment and as such we are seeing it grow at a rate of 17% overall. In addition, consumers are becoming more demanding in their tastes, requesting spicier flavours and new formats, so it is the ideal time to innovate.”

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