Ethnic Foods Market Profile

By Malinda Geisler, specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, malindag@iastate.edu.

Updated March 2012.


Overview
An ethnic market is a group of consumers that share a common cultural background. Many times an ethnic market has a distinctive geographic area. Ethnic food sales are being driven by the growing diverse population, a resurgence in cooking and product innovation. Sales of U.S. ethnic foods, including fresh produce, are estimated to reach $2.7 billion in 2015.

The U.S. population is older, wealthier, more educated and more ethnically diverse than ever before. The Economic Research Service has identified three general demographic trends expected to shape future U.S. food markets: more diversity, more mature consumers and U.S. population growth.

Latino Population
The largest and fastest-growing consumer segment of the U.S. population is the 50.5 million Latino population, according to April 1, 2010, estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau. Blacks accounted for the second largest minority group at 42 million followed by Asians at 17.3 million. American Indian and Alaska natives had a population of 5.2 million. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders numbered 1.2 million.   

The Latino population is projected to grow to an estimated 133 million people by 2050, according to the Census Bureau. The Black population is projected to reach more than 65 million in 2050.

According to the Census Bureau, 63 percent of Latino-origin people have a Mexican background. Others can trace their roots to Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Central and South America.

Consumers with Mexican heritage are accustomed to a diet rich in complex carbohydrates. This includes corn and corn products, beans, rice and breads. Proteins include beans, eggs, fish and shellfish, beef, pork, poultry and goat. Because frying is a common cooking method, the Mexican diet tends to be higher in fat.

U.S. consumers of Mexican descent eat the largest amount of dry beans, about 34 pounds per capita, compared to non-Latino whites (6 pounds per capita). The type of bean depends on the culture. Cubans, Southern Mexicans, Central Americans and Venezuelans use black beans. Northern Mexicans, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans prefer pinto or pinta beans. Cubans, Central South Americans and Hispanic Caribbeans use red kidney beans. Dominicans and Puerto Ricans also use pigeon peas. Venezuelans and Brazilians use chickpeas or garbanzo beans.

Latino foods are not always spicy. Oregano, tomato, garlic and black pepper are used to flavor foods by cooks from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. If chilies are used, they are usually mild.

Spending or buying power is defined as the total personal after-tax income of residents for spending on everything. It does not include borrowed money nor money saved in previous years. The Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia has tracked spending and population trends since 1990.

The buying power of Hispanics in 2009 was $978 billion, according to the Selig Center, higher than the African-American population. Hispanic buying power is expected to rise to $1.3 trillion in 2014. Hispanic households spend more on groceries compared to average non-Hispanic consumers.

Latino households tend to spend more each week, $133 on groceries, compared to other shoppers, who spend $92.50 per week. Grocery shopping is viewed as a family affair for Latinos and usually not done alone. They prefer shopping on weekends, with 58 percent shopping on either Saturday or Sunday.

Compared to the general U.S. shopper, U.S. Latinos shop for groceries three times more per month, an average of 26 trips per month. While they frequent supermarkets for basic grocery purchases, the study indicated Latinos are more likely to also visit bakeries, butcher shops and produce markets on a regular basis. Latinos surveyed also indicated shopping at discount superstores and drugstores for cleaning products, paper goods, personal care items and other necessities. 

A Food Marketing Institute report indicated Hispanic shoppers were interested in supermarkets that offered

  • A variety of fresh produce, meats and breads;
  • Latino products;
  • Bilingual store signs and packages;
  • Bilingual employees that are knowledgeable about Hispanic products; and
  • Advertisements in Latino and Spanish-language media.

About half of the Latino-origin population lives in California (14 million) and Texas (9.5 million). Other states with Latino populations of 1 million or more include Florida, New York, Illinois, Arizona, New Jersey and Colorado.

Asian-American Population
An estimated 17.3 million residents say they are Asian or Asian in combination with one or more other race. This includes Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese. This group accounts for 5.6 percent of the total U.S. population. California has the largest Asian-American population with 5 million people.

In a traditional Asian diet, rice is the mainstay and commonly eaten at every meal. Pork and poultry are the primary protein sources. Significant quantities of dried beans and nuts are also eaten. Fruits and vegetables also make up a large portion of the Asian diet.

The buying power of Asian Americans was $509 billion in 2009, according to the Selig Center, and expected to rise to $697 billion in 2014. Because Asian consumers have higher average income levels, they also spend more than the average household on groceries and dining out.

African-American Population
Cuisine for African-Americans is sometimes referred to as “soul food.” It may include the use of collard greens and other leafy green and yellow vegetables, legumes, beans, rice and potatoes. Food preparation includes frying, barbecuing and service foods with gravy and sauces. Home-baked pies and cakes are common.

The buying power of African-Americans was $910 billion in 2009, according to the Selig Center. It is expected to rise to $1.1 trillion in 2014. Despite their lower average income levels, blacks spent a higher proportion of their money on groceries. However, They spent less on eating out compared to non-blacks.

Online Availability
If local retail outlets do not carry the desired ethnic foods, consumers can go online to purchase preferred products. For example, www.AsianFoodGrocer.com/ offers online Asian food and cooking supplies and ships products in 24 hours.
 

Sources
About Marketing Solutions 

Ethnic Specialties Growth May Double as Population Grows, Produce Retailer, 2011.

Food and Agricultural Commodity Consumption in the United States: Looking Ahead to 2020, Economic Research Service, USDA, 2003.

Hispanic American Influence on the U.S. Food Industry, USDA, 2002.

Mintel Reports Ethnic Food Sales Will Reach Record High in 2009, Food Processing, 2009.

The Multicultural Economy 2012, Selig Center for Economic Growth, University of Georgia.

New FMI Report Examines Purchasing Preferences and Behaviors of U.S. Hispanic Grocery Shoppers, Food Marketing Institute, 2005.

Understanding the Latino Culture, Ohio State University.

U.S. Census Bureau