As a result of the pandemic we’ve seen a decline in dining out, which has inevitably led to the growth of eating at home.

Before COVID-19, 60% of meals were home cooked in the UK. This has now increased to 72% and it is estimated just over 500 million more meals will be consumed indoors every week, with evening meals expected to rise by 23% (Kantar).

There is also a clear link between the increase of at-home occasions and the type of cuisine on our plates. World food in particular is in growth, with consumers becoming more adventurous and experimental with bolder flavour profiles and cuisines to replace eating out.

In fact, at the height of the first lockdown, the absolute growth of world foods was 57% year-on-year (Nielsen).

Old El Paso gained over one million new consumers during this time and saw growth of +45% at the peak (Nielsen). The brand is still growing at over +21% (Nielsen).

“We know that people have been expanding their standard six-meal repertoire, experimenting with different flavours and cooking styles, and we’ve seen an increased appetite for using exotic flavours, spices, and pastes,” says Maeve Judge, Marketing Manager, Old El Paso. “Of course, creating a restaurant-feel in your own home requires a certain level of confidence as a cook. But as a nation we have risen to the challenge.” Since the first lockdown, one in five people have spent time improving their culinary skills and two-fifths say they are enjoying cooking more than ever before (Tesco research). However, traditional British cuisine has fallen out of favour, with consumers looking to world food to inspire more adventurous meals.

The at-home occasion is also crucial for connecting as a family or household. We saw this during the first lockdown, where one in five evening meals were about spending time together and 33% of us said mealtimes became more of an occasion (Tesco research).

“Mexican food is perfectly placed to capitalise on this; it’s informal, everyone can customise to their personal taste and it’s all about sharing,” adds Judge. “Thanks to this, dinner feels like more of a social occasion.” In fact, Mexican food is 32% more likely to encourage ‘together-time’ for UK families and scores most highly in World Food for ‘fun and casual’ meals (Kantar).

“At Old El Paso we’re on a mission to inspire more of that good noise that happens when you truly connect with friends and family around a fun meal,” Judge continues. “Right now, this is more important than ever.” In 2020 Old El Paso launched its biggest innovation in a decade across grocery and convenience, Tortilla Pockets. The soft wraps are sealed at the bottom to offer a first-to-market, mess-free solution to mealtimes. Tortilla Pockets’ design solves the age-old tension of spillage when rolling traditional tortillas, making it simple to enjoy Mexican food – especially for people new to the category.

Offered as part of a meal kit or a standalone split pack of eight, the pre-formed tortillas are ideal for a quick bite on-the-go or a mess-free dinner with kids.

Not only a solution for Mexican meals, Tortilla Pockets are set to bring 69% incremental growth to the overall category (Nielsen). The innovation is also forecasted to open up the lunch occasion by 61%, which is already worth £3.9billion in the UK and growing (Kantar).

Tortilla Pockets is supported with a 360 campaign worth £2million – one of the brand’s biggest to date.

Wing Yip Director, Ennevor Yap, comments: “Asian cuisine has been growing in popularity for a significant amount of time. Historically, consumers were more familiar with a Westernised take on Oriental cuisine, however as more people have travelled to Asia over the past few years and partly thanks to the abundance of recipes available online and across social media, consumer tastes have changed. We believe that there is still very much a demand for Oriental cuisine, however, many consumers are now looking past traditional favourites to discover new, exciting and authentic dishes from countries spanning the whole of Asia.”

Although the growing trend for scratch-cooking, especially during the pandemic, may have resulted in a general decline of ready meal sales, there is still a market for the likes of instant noodles for time-poor consumers who are looking for meal solutions without compromising on quality.

With many more people working from home and looking for meal time inspiration, instant noodles, in particular those with spicy flavours, have become the perfect, quick and easy lunch option.

For those looking for fast, convenient solutions which don’t compromise on quality, Wing Yip’s curry pastes are the perfect option and continue to be popular year-on-year. These include the Wing Yip Curry Concentrate Sauce, and also the Mai Siam range including its Thai Green Curry Paste, Red Curry Paste and Yellow Curry Paste.

“By offering customers a good range of exciting and high-quality Oriental condiments as a complement to their meal, we can help them enhance their dish and create an authentic Oriental experience,” adds Yap. With the popularity of plant-based products increasing, there is also an opportunity for coconut-based ingredients in the bakery and confectionery sectors. Wing Yip’s vegan product range, Nature’s Charm, has a range of products including sweet coconut-based ingredients which are ideal for desserts – these include Coconut Whipping Cream, Coconut Matcha Sauce and most recently to join the portfolio, Coconut Custard. “Looking to the future, we believe there continues to be a space for Asian dishes in particular to grow within the UK food scene as consumer palates becoming more sophisticated and attuned,” says Yap. “For example, while there are only a handful of Filipino restaurants in the UK currently, there is space for Filipino cuisine to develop in popularity with its complex melting pot of sweet, sour, and spicy flavours.”

Crispin Busk, Founder, Kabuto Noodles, comments: “Consumers continue to be open to new flavours. The ongoing Covid situation does make ambient food a very popular offer. Looking ahead, value for money will continue to be a big factor.”

Kabuto Noodles’ original product Chicken Ramen is still its best selling line.

The brand is launching three new lines for 2021 – Singapore noodles, Katsu curry and Yellow Chicken. “We’re excited about all of them and think they taste great!” enthuses Busk.

Kabuto sits at the premium end of the instant noodle category and brings something different to retailers and their customers. Given current bigger trends, ambient food is performing very strongly and Kabuto is part of that.

“Different products appeal to different customers, you can stock a mixture of products and brands, I used to love a Pot Noodle, now I’d rather have a Kabuto,” adds Busk.

As a younger, premium brand Kabuto is focused on online activity, and is seeing its community is growing well.

“To maximise sales, wholesalers need to work with brand owners and retailers to get good positioning and the offer right in store, says Busk. The Coronavirus crisis has made life very difficult in foodservice, we feel for people in that area. We have though been amazed at how quickly companies have pivoted and changed their offer.”

David Binns, Director at R&D Foods Ltd, supplier of the Saitaku brand, comments: “Cooking Japanese food at home has never been more popular, in part due to the current rising trend of ramen noodle soups and poke bowls which are delicious, filling, very healthy and super simple to prepare. Poke bowls are basically an open sushi in a bowl so no skill needed to roll sushi but you still get all the great taste and health benefits.”

Saitaku sells a lot of its Saitaku shiro miso paste which is used to make a soup broth for ramen noodle soups. It is also excellent as a marinade for fish, chicken and vegetables like courgettes and aubergines. Saitaku mirin is often combined with the shiro miso paste as the sweetness of the mirin nicely balances the saltiness of the miso.

The company also recently launched ramen noodles which are proving very popular.

In 2021 Saitaku will be expanding on the ramen theme and launching two concentrated ramen broths: a miso sesame ramen soup broth and a chicken ramen soup broth with spring onion. The brand will also introduce a ramen noodle kit to make it more accessible for consumers to trial at home before trading up to the individual ingredients.

Saitaku has managed to grow at a higher percentage in 2020 than the world food category itself. Key growth areas are sushi ingredients like sushi rice, sushi nori and rice vinegar as well as miso paste, miso soup and noodles like ramen and udon.

“We are seeing several of our key customers dedicating more shelf space to Japanese cuisine than any other world cuisine because Japanese is growing at a faster rate which is helping to maximise world food category growth overall,” says Binns. “We expect to see this trend continue in 2021. Also consumers seem to be more interested in cooking at home since Covid-19 and as such are keener to buy individual ingredients as opposed to meal solutions.”

This year Saitaku is investing heavily into social media marketing, trying to engage with a younger audience through Instagram, Twitter and Facebook which it is encouraging with simple recipe ideas that deliver great taste and great heath benefits.

“Wholesalers need to compete against multiple retailers with world food brands which offer authenticity, accessibility, top quality ingredients and good prices,” suggests Binns. “Innovation is also key to keeping consumers engaged with the category and maintaining growth throughout the year.”

Saitaku promotes itself through catalogue advertising, supported with price promotions. The brand also tries to launch in-trend NPDs in the second quarter of every year that give wholesalers the chance to keep up with dynamic consumer trends.

“I think it is important to understand consumer habits have changed a lot during the Covid-19 crisis and to a large extent are likely to remain the new normal for 2021,” adds Binns.

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