Ethnic cuisine wins out in UK but EU market remains ‘fragmented’

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union United kingdom

UK consumers are increasingly keen on ethnic cuisine, but the market in mainland Europe remains ‘fragmented’, according to a new report from market research firm Keynote.

In its 2011 market report Ethnic Foods​, Keynote estimates that the UK market for ethnic foods and rice was worth around £1.64bn in 2009 – the latest year where figures are available – an increase of 10.4% on the previous year.

However, the firm attributed the overall value increase to a “large rise in the cost of rice”​ (a predicted 47.6% jump to £369m), whereas estimated total growth for ethnic foods without the staple was a “much more modest”​ 2.8%, up to £1.27bn in 2009.

‘Ethnic’ meaning varies

Within the EU as a whole, ethnic food is estimated to constitute 0.8% of total EU27 food sales, said Keynote, with total household expenditure on food €881.37bn in 2009 according to Eurostat’s January figures.

But according to Keynote researcher Sarah Walker:“Though many of the leading ethnic food producers operate in the EU, the European market is much more fragmented than in the UK.”

Cross-country comparisons are complicated by the fact that what a UK consumer considers ‘ethnic’, a consumer in France or Greece might not, said Walker, given that “what is considered ethnic in one place, is ‘ordinary’ and traditional food in another.”

Nonetheless, 2009 figures show the UK leading the EU ethnic cuisine pack in terms of market value, with France and Germany the second and third most significant markets.

Europe goes south of the border

As for trends on the mainland: “Mexican food is more popular in mainland Europe than it is in the UK — it accounts for nearly a third of the value of sales ...largely due to the Spanish market, as Spain’s cuisine has a lot in common with its Mexican counterpart. This helps drive the sale of Mexican food in Spain,” ​said Walker.

And longtime UK favourite Indian food, although growing as a subsector, “only accounts for around 6% of the value of sales in mainland Europe”​, where French consumers, for instance, prefer North African cuisine.

Walker said France imports the largest volume of ethnic foods, owing in part to its large North African population, while that region’s cuisine is “growing in popularity faster in France than anywhere else in the EU”​ due in large part to the country’s colonial past.

Oriental cuisine leads pack

In general terms, the most popular ethnic cuisine in mainland Europe is Oriental, which encompasses both Chinese and South-East Asian foods and accounts for around 70% of the market on mainland Europe, whereas it clocks less than 30% in the UK.

“This is due to the presence of large Chinese communities in the Republic of Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands and France,”​ said Walker, “the influence of which has also driven sales of Oriental foods to non-ethnic customers.”

In the UK Chinese and Indian cuisines (27.5% and 41.7% in value terms) “typically dominate the market”​, with Mexican/Tex Mex, Thai as other major players on the up, although novel cuisines such as Caribbean and Polish are also marking inroads with “rapid growth”.

Competition is cut-throat amongst suppliers and manufacturers, who “perpetually have to reinvent products and innovate to maintain customer interest and loyalty. This involves a constant refreshing of their lines as well as new product development, brand extensions and advertising campaigns.”

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