Familiarity would breed sales growth for ethnic foods

More Canadian consumers likely would be eating interesting ethnic food and flavours—if only they knew what they were missing.

I’m not passing judgement on their lacking a taste for adventure; I’m citing a key finding of the Canadian Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report. According to the study, unfamiliarity with ethnic foods is the biggest impediment to consumers trying new cuisines from beyond Canada.

When surveyed as to why they may ever be hesitant to try ethnic foods or flavours, more than two-fifths of consumers say it’s because there is no description of a dish that seems ethnic (44%)  or they cannot understand a dish’s name or description (43%). Nearly four in 10 people also say they opt against trying ethnic foods when those items are made with unfamiliar ingredients (38%), which is the same amount of consumers that say ethnic food is too expensive.


Base: 1,000 – Source: Canadian Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report

Interestingly, younger consumers are more likely than older consumers to say a lack of a description on the menu dissuades them from trying ethnic foods or flavours. Perhaps that is because Millennial and Gen Z customers are so accustomed to having information they need readily accessible at all times on smartphones and tablets. The unknown appears to be a big turnoff for this demographic.

Restaurant brands will need to be careful about how they introduce ethnic foods to consumers and be diligent and patient in ways they educate guests about these unfamiliar flavours. Customers are hesitant to try ethnic food because they’re unfamiliar with it—but they aren’t familiar with it because they have yet to try ethnic food. It sounds like a Catch-22, but there are ways to solve the problem.

Menu planners should thoroughly describe unique ingredients and, where possible, use bilingual menus to bolster the authenticity of an ethnic dish. Most importantly, educating servers and managers in the finer points of ethnic flavours will ensure that they can answer customers’ questions and coax them into a new flavour experience. One in three consumers say a knowledgeable staff is crucial to ethnic restaurants.

Successfully guiding guests to new ethnic flavours could also help differentiate traditional foodservice concepts as well as ethnic restaurants. An exotic twist on a classic Canadian item can add variety to a menu and appeal to consumers looking for a unique experience, all while maintaining a restaurant’s air of authenticity. Many consumers could be open to ethnic-inspired burgers, sandwiches or pizzas, as long as a restaurant is committed to showing them there’s nothing to fear in the unknown.


Mark Brandau

Mark Brandau is Content Manager for Technomic. He joined Technomic in 2014 from No Limit Agency, and prior to that he worked as an editor for Nation’s Restaurant News for nearly 10 years.

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