Brexit may have sparked a conversation around food standards but our taste for the exotic remains undiminished, giving wholesalers and retailers a great opportunity to expand the market in 2020.

While politically the UK is heading out of Europe, the taste buds of the country seem to want more exciting foods and new cuisine experiences from abroad – all of which makes the World Foods category a fascinating prospect for 2020.

Innovation from old favourites and new entrants to the market means the category is endlessly shifting and changing, giving cash and carries and delivered wholesalers a wealth of opportunities to work with suppliers and importers and build strong distribution networks with local retailers.

But in a fast moving category, what are the brands to stock and trends to capitalise from?

Well, according to Mintel’s 2019 World Cuisines market report, the World Foods category in wholesale is showing robust growth.

Established sectors such as Chinese and Indian are still holding the lion’s share of the market, while relatively new cuisines such as Mexican/Tex-Mex and Asian foods are on the rise.

The report suggests that despite the recent economic uncertainty, “momentum in accompaniments and ingredients” is gaining pace and overall the category’s “healthy value growth [is] set to endure”.

What is clear is that the popularity of bringing the range of tastes from around the world into one’s home for scratch/home-cooking has become an ingrained part of consumer choice.

The exploding restaurant scene has aided these attitudes, introducing Brits to new cuisines or fresh twists on old favourites. What is ordered one week is often mimicked the next, but in one’s own kitchen as consumers see if they can replicate restaurant quality.

But time is of the essence for busy Brits, so it is no surprise that growth can be seen when suppliers make the art of cooking easier for consumers.

Lindsay Hill, Marketing Manager, Meals and Baking, at General Mills, says that as lifestyles get busier, people are increasingly looking for convenient to cook, yet fun and tasty dinners.

“Cooking sauces and meal kits provide a way to enliven a mid-week dinner, with sauces, spice mixes and meal solutions from the world cuisine aisle offering an entry point into bolder, more exotic flavours,” she says.

“Not only that, as we become a nation glued to our screens, families are looking for ways to connect more.”

That connection may be over a shared interest in a more healthy diet, or alternatives to meat.

“With the rise of the flexitarian diet, shoppers are also looking for ways to enjoy their favourite meals with both meat and plant-based alternatives,” highlights Lindsay.

“With the spotlight still firmly on health, shoppers are increasingly opting for cooking sauces and meal kits designed to be used with fresh vegetables and protein such as lean chicken or meat alternatives.”

General Mills’ well established Mexican food brand Old El Paso (worth £100m) has its finger on the pulse of both the ‘quick, convenient’ and ‘flexitarian diet’ trends.

“Mexican can be adapted for meat-based, vegetarian or vegan diets,” explains Lindsey. “At Old El Paso we’re pleased to have been awarded The Vegan Society certification on our lead SKU – Smoky BBQ Fajita Dinner kit.”

“Also, sharing meals like Mexican are ideal for bringing informality and interactivity to the dinner table.”

In fact, a recent study from the brand revealed that Mexican meals trigger more laughter (+5 pts vs regular dinner) and encourage families to turn off the TV (+6 pt) vs. other dinners.

Although some take to world cuisines immediately, others can be apprehensive about stepping outside of their comfort zone in terms of flavour or spice level.

World Food brands can help by offering a range of options, says Lindsay.

“At Old El Paso, our Extra Mild, Super Tasty range is perfect for people who prefer more subtle flavours without heat.

“We also know the main purchase barrier for Mexican is it’s simply not top of mind with shoppers. As a highly impulsive and expandable category, visibility is without doubt the most important driver.”

To help wholesalers and retailers deliver visibility, Old El Paso launched a £6 million Make Some Noise Masterbrand campaign – their biggest to date – in August.

With an aim to reach over 90% of their target audience, it is designed to amplify awareness and “inspire [shoppers] to choose Mexican more often”. Since launching in August, the campaign is well on its way to achieving this goal, says Lindsay.

Trust is one of the key words that Brits talked about since the 2016 Brexit referendum, and post Jan 31st it will be for brands, suppliers and importers to ensure that trust in wholesale and foodservice remains unaffected.

One thing is certain, says Tom Styman-Heighton, Development Chef at Funnybones Foodservice, any new imports are going to have to earn the trust of consumers and food operators.

“After many years of importing Caribbean, Tex-Mex and South American foods to this country, at Funnybones Foodservice we believe we have already done this,” says Tom.

As part of Grace Foods, the Caribbean’s biggest food specialists, the business is well informed on foods from the region.

“We also have networks of suppliers across North and South America, so our food is authentic and has provenance. We have spent decades building relationships with suppliers and food operators in this country, and so we already a trusted supplier to our customers.”

Caribbean foods are a firm favourite among Brits, having been introduced to the UK’s palate during the Windrush generation’s arrival to these shores.

Jerk seasoning is now mainstream and ingredients such as plantain, goat and hot pepper sauces are becoming much more familiar.

There is growing demand for West Indian ingredients like Callaloo which is both vegan and Caribbean in origin, something Funnybones Foodservice supplies in a tinned version which is ideal for making soup and other dishes.

Just as Old El Paso has moved quickly with eating habits, so has Funnybones, who, in line with the growth in demand for free from products, have introduced several lines which are gluten free, vegetarian and vegan.

“There are many vegetarian and vegan Jamaican dishes, so when it comes to Caribbean foods we have lots to offer,” says Tom. “Our Rice and Peas Jamaican Patty for example is vegan.”

“We also offer sweet dishes such as our gluten free, vegetarian Chocolate Brownies which provide a specialist alternative that is also extremely delicious and therefore suitable for everybody to enjoy.”

The strong vegan trend is influencing the market. Mintel reports this sub sector is on the rise as more consumers become aware of alternative lifestyle choices.

This has been echoed in Funnybones’ sales, as Tom reveals: “We have seen the demand for Jackfruit soar as it has a satisfying, meaty texture that makes a great vegan substitute in savoury dishes in its young green state, while the fully ripe fruit has a sweet flavour that is delicious in puddings and desserts.

“We sell both types of this nutritious fruit ready to use in cans. Jackfruit in Syrup is suitable for dishes such as cakes and jellies. And for savoury dishes like vegan pulled pork, vegan burgers and nachos, there is Young Green Jackfruit in brine.”

Another well-established sector is Asian foods.

While for many years this sector simply meant Chinese, now a plethora of cuisines from across Asia have become mainstream in the UK.

Thai, Malay, Korean and Indonesian cuisines are growing their share of the market in speedy fashion, aided by new products, and thus are keeping this sub sector invigorating and exciting.

One mover and shaker in this sector is World Food Specialists, SOP International Ltd, who recently announced exclusive distribution for Thailand’s favourite Sriracha Chilli Sauce and leading brand, Flying Goose. Available at many mainstream retailers, Flying Goose and variants delivered 55% YOY incremental growth and “the heat is on” to grow that further with the launch of their Vegan Spicy Sriracha Mayo Sauce and others.

Strong brand appeal and a launch of Vegan sauces have kept the hype going.

Its versatility is also a strength says Managing Director, David Chattwell, pointing to the fact one can practically Sriracha everything from Sriracha Jacket Potato to Sriracha Tofu, Sriracha Fish N Chips, Sriracha Mac N Cheese and Sriracha Pizza.

David said: “My family started working with the brand owners, Exotic Foods over 30 years ago, we are delighted to be awarded exclusive distribution for this great brand and look forward to growing the business across all our channels.”

With Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Chinese foods on the rise, SOP has positioned itself as the one stop supplier for genuine authentic brands such as Aujmna Republic, Farmer, Khanum, Koh Kae, Nongshim, OKF, Vitas and Yeos.

While the Asian market has expanded, the biggest player remains Chinese cuisine.

Once, like Indian cuisine, Chinese meant a westernised version, but with celebrity chefs and the increase in travelling, true Chinese cuisine has come to fore – and with it, a greater appreciation for Chinese New Year as a chance to experiment.

“Chinese New Year creates an opportunity that catering operators can capitalise on, by expanding their Oriental food offering and appealing to today’s consumers,” says Wing Yip Director, Ennevor Yap. “Wing Yip sauces can be used to make speedy, delicious and authentic-tasting dishes, removing the time and cost of creating equivalent flavours from scratch.”

From mainstream rice and noodles, to more specialist items such as Oriental vegetables, fresh fish including shellfish, and authentic pastes and oils, Wing Yip provides more than 4,500 ingredients from stores in Birmingham, Manchester, Cricklewood, and Croydon.

“This January is the Year of the Rat and many British consumers will be seeking ways to enjoy the festivities and experience the traditions associated with this special time of year in China,” says Ennevor.

“Operators can use this trend to their advantage by providing traditional options using carefully sourced ingredients, taking a part in educating customers about the best Oriental dishes, while providing an exciting array of more unusual options.”

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