Ethnic food sales will reach a record $2.2 billion this year, and advance by another 20% between 2010 and 2014, according to Mintel.
Population growth has driven steady growth for ethnic foods since 2004, the global research supplier reports. More than 1 million foreigners have become permanent legal U.S. residents each year since 2005.
Mexican/Hispanic foods dominate, holding a 62% of ethnic foods' share. In fact, with nearly six in 10 consumers in Mintel's surveys now reporting that they cooked Mexican food within the past month, Hispanic foods are so mainstream that they are "hardly considered ethnic anymore," Mintel's analysts observe.
But the category's real growth-drivers are Asian and Indian foods, which showed 11% and 35% growth, respectively, between 2006 and 2008.
Wealth and youth are two of the strongest predictors of ethnic food cooking, with 92% of households with incomes of $150,000 or higher and 91% of consumers 18 to 24 reporting that they have engaged in such cooking within the past month.
Cooking shows, product innovations and more international travel have contributed to more Americans considering themselves cooking enthusiasts and experimenting with global cuisines and new foods/ flavors.
Two-thirds of respondents prefer to cook ethnic meals from scratch, but the remaining third prefer foods that require less time and preparation. Food manufacturers are encouraging the cooking trend by providing ethnic sauces and seasonings to add to home-prepared meats and vegetables, "or taking it a step further with meal solutions and pre-made meal kits," notes Mintel senior analyst David Browne.