Retail Dietitians have the opportunity to facilitate new and exciting cultural experiences for their shoppers
By RDBA CEO Phil Lempert
In his podcast during the summer of 2019, David Chang (the brilliant chef and founder of the Momofuko chain of restaurants and line of sauces and spices) made headlines when he declared that the ethnic aisles of supermarkets is “the last bastion of racism that you can see in full daylight in retail America.”
His comments drew much criticism from the supermarket community who since the end of World War II stocked their shelves with the foods that American soldiers had discovered and grew to like during their time abroad. Today, the demand for more ethnic and exotic foods has expanded well beyond those who visit other countries because of the posting of recipes on TikTok and Instagram from around the globe.
Ethnic foods continue to stretch out with more shelf space in stores and higher interest from consumers. Popular food social platforms and blogs are educating a new crop of food enthusiasts that aren’t necessarily “foodies” but just people interested in changing up the menu at home, exploring new ways to cook, and find entertainment in the lifestyle and stories that accompany the television cooking shows, feeds and videos of food bloggers and chefs.
Millenials and Gen Z yearn to expand their palates through the cultural offerings that they, along with shoppers of all ages, are likely to find appealing; and supermarkets, led by their retail dietitians, are in the position to facilitate the multi-cultural food relationship. But there are challenges.
Many imported ethnic foods may not have accurate ingredient or nutritional information – and may even contain some ingredients not familiar to our shoppers and retail dietitians. It is critical in this age of transparency that retail dietitians work closely with ethnic foods’ buyers, and in some cases distributors, to get the accurate information to communicate to shoppers through your media channels, in-store, and on your eCommerce platform. I happen to love a certain brand of hot Chinese mustard and a quick review of six major retailers’ eCommerce sites left me unsatisfied. A couple showed the picture of the front of the jar, another two showed me the nutritional facts panel and only one listed the ingredients. In this time of eCommerce adoption, this lack of information is unacceptable. When I shop in a supermarket other than my regular store and cannot find my favorite on the mustards or Asian food shelves, I ask for the brand at the courtesy counter to see if they carry the product. Typically I receive blank stares. I realize this product is not in the top 10,000 SKUs, and not every store may stock it, but as shoppers’ palates become more sophisticated the least we can do is offer it online with the correct and complete information.
Retail dietitians, who are always at the forefront of food trends should be scanning what are the most popular recipes featured on social media and be able to get into the minds of the multicultural shoppers, and then communicate those desires and opportunities to their buyers.
Besides the food involved hipsters, let’s remember with the consumer base becoming more and more multicultural, supermarkets need to change their offerings – or risk losing their shoppers to online platforms like Amazon, Alibaba and others. It is important to note that multicultural consumers lean towards brands and products that reinforce their cultural roots, and this influences non-multicultural consumers, too. For example, Hot Sauce. Remember when hot sauce appealed just to those of Asian or Latin descents? Look in your own fridge or cupboard!
Retail dietitians, who during the pandemic, have very effectively turned to social media and videos to promote recipes should see these cooking classes as ways for their stores to create competitive distance between them and the many kinds of retailers selling ethnic foods. Bundling these often-unknown ingredients with the recipe in-store make it easy for shoppers to embrace these new cultural dishes and showcase their stores’ ethnic credibility when your buyers import little known brands from your shoppers’ native homelands. It’s equally important to bundle the ingredients in your on-line platforms.
Ethnic foods’ success comes with being authentic to people of many nationalities, as well as drawing the interest of American shoppers who until now have been used to conventional flavors but are more motivated than ever because of the trend towards more home cooking during the pandemic to learn about and try the world of ethnic foods that surround them. And who better to lead the effort than the retail dietitian?