American consumers have grown more interested in eating ethnic food away from home, but many find their options at restaurants lacking.
That means the foodservice industry has an opportunity to drive traffic and sales with globally inspired flavors, new research from Technomic Inc. finds.
The Chicago-based market research firm found in its new Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trends Report that only about a quarter of consumers polled said they were satisfied with restaurants’ selection of ethnic foods — including just 23 percent of consumers speaking for limited-service chains and 28 percent of those for full-service brands.
“Authenticity is crucial to the ethnic food and beverage purchasing decision,” Darren Tristano, the firm’s executive vice president, said in a statement. “Sixty-five percent of consumers say food that tastes authentic is one of the most important factors in deciding which establishment to visit for ethnic food and beverages.”
Restaurants could meet that demand with menu items that incorporate different flavors, taste profiles and preparation methods from around the world, he added.
“Consumers also say that dishes prepared by someone from that region are given greater credibility as authentic,” Tristano said.
Once customers find restaurants that reliably sell ethnic foods they like, they frequently buy those items, Technomic found, as 77 percent of consumers polled for the report said they purchase ethnic food and drinks away from home at least once a month. Minority groups largely drive this trend, as 90 percent of Asian-American respondents and 88 percent of Hispanic respondents said they eat ethnic flavors at restaurants that often.
Many respondents said they considered not only cuisines from foreign countries but also from specific regions of the United States to be ethnic food, such as Cajun and Creole, which were identified by 89 percent and 86 percent of consumers, respectively, as ethnic cuisine.
Still more consumers are open to trying new flavors and foods from abroad. According to Technomic’s report, 33 percent of respondents strongly agreed that there are many ethnic foods they would like to order at restaurants but are unable to find.
In the company’s Consumer Food Trends newsletter, Technomic senior research analyst Anne Mills wrote that consumers drawn to ethnic cuisines like Mexican, or Southeast Asian styles like Thai and Vietnamese, often are satisfying a demand for something new.
“Primarily, consumers choose ethnic offerings as a way to discover and experiment with new foods and flavors,” Mills wrote. “Ethnic meals allow consumers to diversify their diet with innovative flavors and ingredients, which can add a sense of adventure to even an ordinary meal.”
Of the Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report’s 1,500 respondents, 64 percent said they opted for ethnic food over typical American fare at a restaurant “to look for something different,” while 61 percent also cited a reason “to discover new flavors.” Another 55 percent of consumers also opted for ethnic foods to satisfy “a craving for a particular ethnic food,” including 59 percent of female respondents and 51 percent of male respondents.
Forty-two percent of respondents said they ordered ethnic food at a restaurant recently “for spicier flavors,” including 47 percent of male consumers and 38 percent of female consumers.
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