Engage: ethnic food explosion highlights need for brands to get close to consumers

Waitrose’s announcement it is launching a new range of chilled soups with flavours including West Indian Chicken, Bombay Spiced Cauliflower & Carrot and Crème Fraiche and Coriander shows how suppliers need to ensure they understand the impact that changing consumer tastes are having on the FMCG and retail markets.
That’s the view from leading customer insight agency Engage Research after the retailer’s new Bowl range was launched at younger consumers looking for a healthy light lunch or dinner option.
“The move by Waitrose reflects a trend in the market that has been evident for some time,” said Engage Research qualitative director Hetta Bramley.
“Last year Morrisons said it had seen a rise in sales of ethnic foods of more than 600% over the past five years; Marks & Spencer has expanded its international brands range and Tesco has introduced West African and south Indian foods alongside Polish, Greek Cypriot and Filipino taking it number of authentic ethnic lines over 3,000. Suppliers can’t afford to ignore this trend.”
Indeed a recent Mintel report quoted six in 10 adults in the UK enjoying eating foreign food with 44% saying they were always looking for new and interesting ethnic foods. Ready meals are fuelling the growth, supported by increased new product development and this greater drive from supermarket own-label. 
“To get the insights they need in order to plan their NPD effectively and exploit the opportunities changing consumer tastes present, brands need to achieve a more equal, adult relationship with their consumers. Consumers appear increasingly willing to enter into relationships with brands who offer meaningful interaction – that is a relationship of mutual respect, where there are opportunities to influence as well as be influenced,” said Bramley.
Insight should ensure brands know and understand their audiences to the extent they can form proper relationships with them,said Bramley. A key bonus of a more experiential style of qualitative research is that it can be used to fast-track these relationships, by facilitating face to face interaction between clients and consumers and sending them on a journey with shared responsibility for the outcome – a powerful blend of consumer immersion and co-creation.
Experiential is all about creating an atmosphere so full of energy and buzz it carries people beyond the awkward and sometimes artificial research process to a place where they can interact easily and naturally. However, it should not be at the expense of real, robust research. Creating the energy is the first half of the task research teams should ensure that experiential sessions areas devoted to insight generation and co-creation as they are to consumer immersion. The scope of experiential provides the perfect opportunity for brands to understand their customers and build that all-important relationship fast.
“Brands could consider adopting a ‘consultative’ approach to research,” said Bramley. “Consultative moderation can yield a more informed and considered level of insight and is therefore particularly effective for future-focused and complex strategy projects. The result is a strongly welded stakeholder-consumer partnership, where each party has clearly delineated yet complementary roles – a switch from one-way communication to two-way interaction in research which is the first step towards achieving the same vital switch in the wider marketing context.”