European ethnic food growth

ASian Cuisine

European ethnic food growth

European ethnic foods was worth around EUR4.12bn in 2006. This figure covers all of the major western European markets, namely the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Ireland and the Benelux and Scandinavian countries. This figure has grown in recent years as a result of people becoming increasingly well-travelled, as a result of which their tastes are now more adventurous and cosmopolitan. The continued spread of various ethnic cuisines throughout the European foodservice industry has also aided growth.

With sales worth over EUR2.34bn, the UK has the region’s largest market, ahead of France, Germany and the Netherlands. Analysed by sector, Chinese and Oriental foods account for 42% of value sales, ahead of Mexican/American (27%) and Indian (25%). Much of the recent growth has come from emerging cuisines, most notably Thai, Japanese and Caribbean. Although ethnic foods have traditionally been strongest in product sectors such as ready meals and cooking sauces, their influence is now becoming apparent in areas like savoury snacks.

“A Professional platform for the Ethnic Food Industry”

Heuschen & Schrouff Oriental Foods Trading BV is the market leading distributor of authentic Asian food and non-food in Germany, Austria, and the Benelux. “We import the Taste of Asia – the products and A-brands typically displayed on the supermarket shelves in Asia,” says Commercial Director Marc Boits.

The business started nearly 50 years ago in the Netherlands, targeting the many Indonesian people coming into the country. Since then their product portfolio has expanded to keep in line with changing customer requirements, and now covers over 3000 SKUs. “Up to 60% of a typical Asian supermarket’s customers in western Europe are not Asians, but local Europeans,” remarks Boits. “Our product range reflects this growth.”

As to the future of ethnic food, Boits has some interesting views. He believes that the snacking market is set for some delicious new products from the orient. “Japanese food is huge in Europe at the moment, and in Japan they have a lot of very interesting snack foods,” he explains. “They are not only tasty and easy to eat, but they are also very healthy. I can easily imagine them taking off big-time over here.”

Patrick Verhoeven, Category Manager for Makro Cash & Carry Belgium, is very positive about the Ethnic Foods Europe exhibition. “It’s a great opportunity for me and my colleagues. There will be a huge assortment of products on display from all over the world. Normally such events are in the Far East;

Within Makro Cash & Carry Belgium are two types of store. The five METRO stores are aimed solely at food professionals, while the six MAKRO stores are targeted at both consumers and professionals. The oldest MAKRO store, in Antwerp, dates back to 1970. The METRO line is in the process of being extensively expanded.

Verhoeven has seen the ethnic food industry in Belgium grow year after year, and he sees no sign of it abating. “We have a strong, well-developed culture of gastronomy in Belgium, and ethnic food plays a key role in it,” he explains. “Moreover, ethnic foods are being increasingly used in traditional Belgian dishes. So it’s certainly a large and growing market.”

As to the requirements of his customers, Verhoeven points out that customer education is very important – more so for his retail customers than for his professional customers. “Professional customers know what they want and how to use it. However, when faced with a new ethnic food item, retail customers don’t always know how to cook and eat it, so we have to provide demonstrations and animations.”
“A huge growth market” 

HGC-Hanos Belgium is one of Belgium’s leading wholesalers for the catering industry. Its 17,000 square meter warehouse in Antwerp – the first cash-and-carry hypermarket in Belgium aimed specifically at the catering industry – offers a vast range of food and non-food items, as well as drinks, office products and a restaurant for its clientele. A 48-hour delivery service rounds off the company’s portfolio.

Chief Buyer at HGC-Hanos Belgium is Luc Willemssens, “Belgium has a huge market for ethnic foods thanks largely to a strong tradition of gastronomy here and a multicultural mix of people,” says Willemssens. “It’s one of the reasons why this year we started a page in all our promotional folders dedicated to ethnic foods.

In his 15-year career with HGC-Hanos, Willemssens has noticed two significant changes in the industry. The first is the growth of oriental restaurants in Belgium. He remembers seeing the first Chinese restaurant open in his home town: now it’s been joined by all sorts of restaurants: Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Japanese, Nepali … the list is endless.

The second major change is affecting the traditional Belgian-French-Italian cuisine. “Chefs are experimenting by using different types of flours, spices, herbs and grains from all over the world in their dishes,” he explains. “I doubt if a restaurant exists in Belgium that does not now use ethnic ingredients, even in the most conventional fish and meat dishes.”

Naturally this is good news for HGC-Hanos Belgium, as they are selling more and more ethnic foods every year.

“I need to see the new ethnic foods that are coming onto the market. And not just foods: I am extremely interested in the non-foods area. These days people want to eat smaller portions of different foods, with side-dishes – whether it’s in restaurants or at home. This is leading to a great demand for all sorts of small plates, pots, cans, dishes, even woven baskets for steaming vegetables.

As to the future, Willemssens believes the market will continue to grow. “At the moment most of our ethnic ranges come from the Middle East or Far East. Soon we will be seeing an influx of totally new products from Africa and South America. Ethnic Foods Europe is likely to play a key role in the future growth of the industry.”


“Why Ethnic Foods Europe?”

Ethnic Foods Europe is an important trading and networking opportunity that we have created based on input from the industry. The fact that it’s therefore an industry initiative clearly underlines the importance of the event. We received input from firstly Heuschen & Schrouff and then a larger group of companies that the ethnic food suppliers market was eagerly looking for a new trading platform in Europe, where buyers and suppliers could meet, discuss issues of mutual benefit, learn from each other and do better business in a growing market.
How do you define the market segment of ethnic food and where do you see the future development?
We describe ethnic food as any food that is not Western European in origin. In terms of specific regions and countries it covers foods originating from Central Asia, the Far East, Arabia, the Middle East, Turkey, Africa and South America.
As to the future of the ethnic foods market in Europe, it’s looking extremely bright. Europe is increasingly becoming a melting pot of cultures, with more and more nationalities establishing themselves here. You just have to walk through any of the major towns and cities in Europe – in any country – to realize this. And of course all these people want to eat what they are accustomed to eat back home. This was the driving force behind the establishment of Asian supermarkets in Europe.
In addition, second generation immigrants are now striking out from their own ethnic supermarkets and visiting mainstream supermarkets to find their own ethnic foods.
A final factor is that today’s Europeans are global travelers. And wherever they go to, they enjoy the food and come back to look for it in their local supermarket. So European cooking and eating habits are changing, which again is driving the growth of the ethnic foods market here.

What new trends in ethnic food do you expect?

I expect to see certain ethnic foods become mainstream. This has already happened in the UK where Chicken Tikka Masala is now the most popular dish in UK restaurants and has even been called “Britain’s true national dish.” I expect to see similar ethnic dishes rising up the popularity charts in other European countries and become accepted by the large supermarkets.

I also anticipate the arrival of new ethnic foods. I would not be surprised to see food items from the Arabic peninsula and Turkey increase their market share.

I also think we will get a broader variety of suppliers operating in Europe, both large ones and smaller specialty suppliers. In parallel, as customers buy more ethnic foods, their expectations will rise so quality levels will become higher.

All in all I think the ethnic foods market is currently in a strong position at the moment and will continue to grow and develop in the near future


Saad Saraf


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