Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy

Why don’t Specialty Food Retailers Embrace the Whole Community?

Posted by Vanessa Vachet | 10.15.16


Why are Ethnic Consumers not included in the Green Foods Movement?

Why are Ethnic Consumers not included in the Green Foods Movement?


October 16th marks the United Nation’s World Food Day and the theme for this year is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.”


The biggest issue in a changing climate? Global food security, especially in poorer countries. However, even in developed ones, we see constant threats to the quantity and quality of our food. Think about the depleted fish stocks off Eastern Canada, the crippling droughts in Southern California, the radioactive contamination of coastal waters at Fukushima, or the tainted baby formula and milk powder in China. When it comes to food, global consumers are more and more concerned about where their food is coming from and how it is produced. And if you think ethnic consumers aren’t as concerned, or that it won’t influence their purchasing decisions, think again. Ethnic consumers are just as engaged as the mainstream segment. Here’s why…


People today want to live healthier lifestyles. Immigrants are no different. A common reason for choosing Canada as their new home country is the access to fresh air, an appreciation for nature and the means for their family to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle. And that includes the food they put in their bodies.


The Natural Foods Market is booming while Supermarkets Slump

The Natural Foods Market is booming while Supermarkets Slump


The impact on the food retail industry is clear. According to a 2013 Statistics Canada Agricultural Report, traditional supermarket’s share of the grocery industry is actually shrinking, while consumers are favouring specialty and natural food stores, driving sales growth in the market.

Look at these changes:

  • the proliferation of supermarket chains like Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s
  • the availability of non-GMO tofu at T&T Supermarket
  • organic Halal meats available at various butchers in Surrey, BC
  • mass adoption of hormone and steroid free meats in fast-food franchises like A&W
  • the push by local chefs and food celebrities for the use of sustainable foods
  • the widespread adoption of a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle by non-Buddhists and others


People are voting with their dollars and the votes are in: Nothing today is more widespread and more marketable than the ‘Green Movement’. 


But ethnic consumers are being left behind.


The question is why? Why are ethnic consumers not considered part of the ‘green’ target audience? And why is so much marketing directed to the ‘mainstream’ market, while ethnic consumers are largely ignored?


Ethnic consumers are just as interested in healthy foods and also a wide array of specialty foods. Look at these facts:

  • According to an agri-foods report by the government of Canada, attitudes towards health among Asian consumers differs from the rest of the population (for instance, they are less likely to be overweight themselves and, more than mainstream Canadians, they tend to find overweight people less attractive). Positioning products around ‘all natural’ and its nutritional value will likely resonate well with Asian Canadians.


Consumers Today want Healthier, Sustainable Foods. That Includes Ethnic Consumers Too!

Consumers Today want Healthier, Sustainable Foods. That Includes Ethnic Consumers Too!


  • Looking for a business opportunity to market ‘Premium’ or ‘Specialty Foods’, just look at the Canadian Halal market. With a notable and expanding Muslim population, Canada’s Halal market is currently estimated at $1 billion. While the global Halal market is worth roughly $580 billion, with Halal products accounting for roughly 5% of total agri-food trade.


  • The Canadian Muslim population also has the potential to spend more money on groceries. This consumer group tends to be well educated, they have larger households (4.4 people per household, as opposed to 2.5 per household on average), and commonly include meat as a part of their diet, spending more money on meat than the average consumer.


  • The South Asian and Chinese population is projected to expand dramatically in the coming 20 years, possibly by more than twice its current size. While the mainstream population is already declining, these demos have a projected population growth of over 2.4 million by 2031. And an interest toward healthier food products among these ‘specialty’ consumers is growing across Canada.


South Asian Families might need Help Selecting Healthy and Sustainable Foods

South Asian Families might need Help Selecting Healthy and Sustainable Foods



  • South Asians spend significantly more (23%) on groceries than average Toronto and Vancouver households. This above-average expenditure, coupled with a growing population, presents growth opportunities for grocers. This consumer segment is also more likely to try new foods from other ethnic groups, resulting in an “integrated” or “bi-cultural” diet.


So why are the majority of players in the green food industry ignoring those facts?


Mainstream grocers may not currently be seeing a culturally diverse clientele, but here’s why.


Some common barriers to the purchasing of sustainable and what are often referred to as ‘Premium Foods’:


  • Cost, price & value 
  • Ingredient lists and source, or country of origin, not stated or not in a familiar language
  • Lack of familiarity with food product or service


Purchasing Decisions can Be Scary to Canadian Newcomers - Retailers need to make it Easy!

Purchasing Decisions can Be Scary to Canadian Newcomers and even Established Ethnic Consumers- Retailers need to make it Easy!


That’s why it’s up to food producers and retailers to ‘step up their game’. Offer multi-lingual labelling on your food products. Organise in-store demonstrations, using sustainable foods in a variety of ethnic recipes. (Hint: this is a proven strategy for reaching Asian families where 56% seek in-store demos before making a purchase.) And advertise in the more popular ethnic media these demos regularly consume.


Also, a marketing agency that specialises in cross-cultural marketing can help you to:

  • Understand ethnic lifestyle trends that help enable agri-food businesses to resonate with them
  • Understand their eating patterns so you can help spread new culinary experiences to new and established Canadians 
  • Communicate your understanding of their community and their needs through marketing and media strategies, packaging sizes and pricing offers


With the global population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, consumers and food producers both know that it will be a challenge to meet the demand – let alone to provide quality, eco-friendly food options. As the UN has made clear in 2016, “agriculture and food systems will need to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and become more resilient, productive and sustainable.” This is why the global message for World Food Day 2016 is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.”


And our message to you: If your company is already verging towards ‘Green’ and ‘alternative healthy foods’, why not make that known to your ethnic consumers? Grow your market share by educating ethnic consumers about healthier, eco-friendly alternatives. As their demand increases, it would not only be a game-changer for the ‘Green Movement’, but also for your bottom-line!




Sources: Images: From Flickr Creative Commons: MIKI Yoshihito, Marita, OccupyReno MediaCommittee, Sanjoy Ghosh, Caden Crawford