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Canadians are craving ethnic foods

New study reveals that nearly three quarters of Canadians like to experience other cultures through food

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With immigration continuing to drive Canada’s population growth and alter its ethnic makeup, a new study says these factors are being reflected in how Canadians eat.

The Mintel study, Ethnic Foods and Flavours, found that nearly three quarters (73%) of Canadians like to experience other cultures through food, with more than half (57%) indicating they are more willing to try ethnic foods than they were a few years ago.

While traditional ethnic foods such as Chinese (89%), Italian (84%) and Latin American/Mexican (82%) remain hugely popular among Canadians, the study says consumers are increasingly seeking out “less prominent” cuisines from other ethnic groups in an attempt to break the “monotony” of mealtime.

While only 20% of Canadians have eaten African-inspired food, for example, half of respondents indicated that they are interested in doing so. Similarly, while just one-third of consumers have eaten Southeast Asian food, 44% said they are interested in trying such a dish.

This receptivity to other cuisines also extends to the home, with 65% of respondents indicating that they are open to trying “ethnically inspired” food preparation.

However, the report says that a “sizeable minority” of consumers are hesitant to create them at home, with approximately one-third (36%) of respondents saying that making ethnic foods is “intimidating.” Thirty-eight per cent of respondents also agreed that it is difficult finding the ingredients necessary to make ethnic-inspired dishes.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (61%) say they generally try ethnic-inspired foods at restaurants before preparing them at home. Joel Gregoire, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, says that brands can appeal to hesitant Canadians by partnering with ethnic-inspired restaurants.

“Consumers trust the knowledge and expertise of restaurants when it comes to ethnic foods and may be receptive to retail ethnic-inspired products showcasing a foodservice influence,” he says.

The study says there is consumer interest in ethnic-inspired portable and pre-packaged products, with 37% of respondents saying they are interested in snack items with an ethnic flavour. This mindset is particularly prevalent among 18-34 year-olds (44%), who are also among those most likely to be interested in trying ethnic foods now compared with a few years ago.

Canadians are also interested in ethnic-inspired food kits, pre-packaged ethnic-inspired meals that require only heating, and portable meals more commonly eaten in other countries or regions. Forty per cent of respondents also indicated an interest in trying offerings that blend flavours from different countries and regions.

Gregoire says consumers are giving food brands “the green light” to provide food offerings that blend cultures, indicating that they are not entrenched in the “old ways” of cooking.

He says that “younger, open-minded” consumers are driving the growth of portable meals and ethnic-inspired snacking options. “Brands that are looking to innovate prepared meal offerings or offer satiating snacks have the opportunity to do so with ethnic-inspired flavours,” he said.

The study is based on interviews with 2,000 Canadians aged 18+.

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