As Dining In Gets Old, Specialty Foods Lure

PasteneIt's no secret that as Americans have cut way back on restaurant spending, they are cooking more meals at home than they have in years. But as restaurant dining nears historic lows, a less obvious trend is emerging: high levels of food boredom. Those wonderful evenings of tapas, dim sum, sushi and ceviche have been replaced with the monotonous family standards, week after week.

As a result, specialty foods that can inject a little ethnic spark into the steady stream of chicken fingers are poised for a breakout year, say Steven (managing partner) and Robert (chief brand strategist) Frissora of Arcanna, a food branding company based in Peekskill, N.Y. They participated in a Q&A session with Marketing Daily.

Q: Most families operate in a recipe rut, with the same dishes appearing over and over. Will that drive people back to restaurants?



A: No. The economy is still on this roller coaster, and studies show that restaurant meals now cost on average about three times what it costs to make a similar meal at home. The grocery store is still substantially less expensive than the restaurant. But people don't want to be bored. We're already seeing an increased demand for recipes and home dining advice from food magazines--whose newsstand sales rose last quarter while overall magazine sales have been rapidly falling. And bookstores say they're selling more cookbooks.

Q: What kinds of recipes are in demand?

A: Consumers who have become used to the wide variety of special dishes at favorite restaurants are looking for comparable variety from ethnic and artisan foods that they can prepare at home--something a little different.

Q: How willing are people to cross ethnic food boundaries in their own kitchens? Just because people like Asian food out, will they cook it at home?

A: Often they will. We have this theory we call Salad Bowl Branding (, and have found that certain people are extremely motivated to try authentic foods. And we know that demand for authentic ethnic foods is set to increase 50% in the next decade, because people are so willing to experiment. There's a very affluent group of consumers who are now spending the money they used to spend at restaurants in the supermarket, and they've got very diverse eating styles.

Q: When does a flavor or food become mainstream?

A: We were just doing some focus groups for a beverage product, and it was interesting to see that even among mainstream moms and children, some of the preferred flavors were mango and guava. We'd expect that in Hispanic markets, but the point is these aren't specialty flavors any more. Everyone likes them.

Q: Which brands will benefit most from this?

A: Any brand that can position itself as authentic, but still appeal to a more mainstream audience. And any brand that can increase trials, and give the message that they're not so difficult to prepare. The time is right for retailers to move some specialty items into mainstream food aisles and to feature specialty food items in high-visibility locations. Co-promotions are doing very well, and anything with online recipes also appeals. People are saying, 'We're looking to make these new foods ourselves--how can we do that in an authentic way?"

Q: Which types of cuisines are going to be hot?

A: Any kind of fusion is very big right now--meals and dishes that combine flavors, mixes and spices from different categories--Pan-Asian foods, sushi/samba trends. People are looking for those new flavor combinations. One of our clients, Pastene, just introduced tuna canned with hot chili, for example. Southwestern foods with a New Mexico flair are also popular, as are meals that bring in influences from Argentina and Brazil.

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