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Mealtime with ethnic Canadians

We know the face of Canadian shoppers is changing. But what about their palates?

Canada forecasts that by the year 2031 visible minorities will make up 31 per cent of the population, up from 16 per cent in 2006. Needless to say, Canada’s ethnic and cultural makeup is evolving rapidly.

But how should grocers and food manufacturers respond to meet the needs of these customers? Much has been written about how new Canadians prefer shopping at ethnic grocery stores.

But there is scant information on how and what they actually eat. Yet understanding their consumption behaviour will help us cater better to these customers.

We know, of course, that ethnic consumers can’t all be lumped into one, single group. So rather than cover every major ethnic group’s eating habits here, I’ll hone in on one–the Chinese-Canadian community and the results of an NPD Group report examining their eating and drinking habits.

One of our findings has to do with where Chinese Canadians source and eat their meals. What we found was more than 20 per cent of all meals that Chinese Canadians eat are sourced and eaten outside of their homes.

For all other Canadians that number is 15 per cent. Lunch drives much of this difference. Chinese Canadians source and eat 36 per cent of their lunches outside of the home compared with 18 per cent for the rest of the population.

How can we capitalize on these differences? The most obvious is to look at home meal replacement (HMR) programs. A grocery store with an HMR program in an area with a substantial Chinese-Canadian community should look at options that address the preferences of this group.

For example, sandwiches are the top lunch choice among all Canadians, but they’re eaten less frequently by Chinese Canadians.

Instead, soup, rice, pasta, chicken, pork and fish make up lunch. As retailers look to attract ethnic consumers, having a multi-pronged approach that recognizes the where, when and what of consumption behaviour can provide a competitive advantage.

At dinner we find several surprises that challenge the general preconceptions about Chinese-Canadian consumers. For instance, they do not use more ingredients to prepare their dinners than the average Canadian. But as with lunch, they use more vegetables, rice, pasta, fruit, chicken and pork.

What’s not included on their Top 10 list is also worth noting. Potatoes, sandwiches and beef are all eaten less frequently among this group compared to other Canadians, which points to a difference in flavour profiles.

Also of note is that when Chinese Canadians do use ingredients in making a dish at dinner, they are more likely to use vegetables, sauces and spices. They also prefer to cook on the stove rather than in the oven.

All of this raises several important questions for food retailers and manufacturers: How to provide food offerings and meal solutions that are in sync with the flavour profile of this growing community? And how to market to them in a way that addresses their existing
behaviours?

There are, of course, other considerations that factor into penetrating the Chinese-Canadian and broader ethnic market, such as how to elicit trial and create trust in established North American brands.

But while brand acceptance is indeed important, it’s also vital to understand the fundamental behaviours and motivations behind food and beverage choices. With much of Canada’s growth coming from immigration, it is becoming more essential than ever to understand how to meet the needs of Canada’s expanding ethnic market.

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