SIAL Canada – the country’s largest food and beverage show – is back for its 15th edition at Montreal’s Palais des Congrès, running May 2 to May 4. At the show’s Expert Hub, B.K. Sethi, president of B.K. Sethi Marketing Ltd., will be providing advice on opportunities and challenges in Canada’s growing ethnic food market. Ahead of the show, we talked with Sethi about the biggest trends and opportunities in the category.
What will you be doing at SIAL Montreal?
SIAL Montreal has an Expert Hub with people from different fields such as packaging, organic and cheese, and for the last three years, they have brought in an ethnic expert. I will be helping the exhibitors and visitors with their questions on Canada’s growing ethnic market: how to approach it, what are the basic differences between the mainstream market versus the ethnic market, as well as ethnic food marketing in Canada. People from 60 countries will be attending the show, and many don’t know how the Canadian market works, so I will provide them support and help them understand the landscape.
What are the biggest trends in ethnic food today?
The biggest trend is that consumers in general are accepting of ethnic foods. Their tastes are changing and they want to add more hot and spicy foods to their diets. They want more taste and they want authentic ethnic food rather than just an imitation. On the grocery retail side, produce sections are getting larger because the trend is eating fresh. So, we’re seeing more ethnic produce items, as well as more organic and natural products.
What’s driving the growth and interest in the ethnic foods category?
In Canada, the ethnic population is at about 21%, and by 2031, one third of all Canadians will be visible minorities. Our growing ethnic population impacts mainstream Canadians’ tastes. In fact, 52% of Canadian consumers have tried ethnic foods, so they’re more open to exploring new flavours. Secondly, Canadians are travelling to international destinations more than they did 20 years ago, which exposes them to new and different foods. Thirdly, because of the increase in the ethnic population, there’s more integration at schools and kids are becoming more aware of multicultural foods. Finally, our importers, distributors and marketers of ethnic foods have aggressively grown this segment, and retailers are increasingly participating in the ethnic category. In the United States, the Latino market is the biggest ethnic foods segment, whereas in Canada, there are products from all over the world.
What are the biggest growth opportunities in ethnic food for grocery retailers?
Grocery retailers have done well, but I do have some key advice for them. First, they should cover all sections of the store, not just non-perishable products. For instance, they can stock okra and bok choy in the produce section, as well as different meats, deli products and cheese. It is very important to cover all the departments if they want ethnic consumers to shop in their stores. Next, they have to be flexible. They can’t say, ‘I have 60 feet of ethnic products in the store, here’s the planogram, set it up’ because each market area they service has a different ethic population. So, if Markham is Chinese, Brampton is Indian and North York is Arabic, that’s how they tailor their offering. On the marketing front, communication is the biggest challenge for retailers. They can rely on their partners and suppliers to communicate to ethnic consumers very effectively. It doesn’t have to be TV ads, but they should do community events and use ethnic media to better reach these consumers.