The popularity of internationally inspired foods in Canada is indicative of a consumer base that is open to exploring new foods and flavours. Three quarters (77%) of Canadians agree that internationally inspired foods are more mainstream now than they used to be.1 Conversely, finding foods that are new and different yet are accepted by the broad consumer base, can be a challenge. As such, it’s important to understand the types of internationally inspired foods and flavours that consumers are showing interest in, as well as how these flavours are being incorporated into everyday meals.
Contributing to the demand for internationally inspired foods is Canada’s rainbow of cultures. According to the 2016 Census, 7,540,830 foreign-born individuals immigrated to Canada, representing over one-fifth (21.9%) of Canada’s total population.2 Almost half (48.1%) of our foreign-born population was born in Asia (including the Middle East), while a lower proportion (27.7%) was born in Europe.3
Meal planning and preparation is a category driver for international foods. Stuck at home and facing travel restrictions that are unpredictable, consumers are seeking both global dishes in traditional form and more approachable fusions of flavour. One way of coping with kitchen burnout, especially when regular dining out isn’t always an option, is through easily accessible international flavours. Consumers are looking to try “international” versions in familiar dishes, even casual fare like sandwiches and snack foods. But the workhorse items that are really making a difference for home cooks are products like cooking sauces and condiments: Oriental Sauces grew 21%, while Specialty Eastern Foods grew 25% – both in unit volume. 4Typically requiring heavy preparation in nature, but if already prepared and ready to go, focus moves to other meal components.
With Canada having a wide-ranging international background, many are familiar with several different cuisines, so much so, that some can be considered mainstream. Two-thirds of Canadians have eaten Chinese and Italian foods in the last 6 months, and over 40% have had Mexican.5 This frequency indicates the importance of these ethnicities to our weekly meal planning.
There are a few cuisines Canadians have spotlighted recently. More than 38% would like to try Caribbean foods: heavily spiced meat and vegetable stews (like allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, thyme, and cumin), featuring pork, goat, seafood, eggplant, okra, and squashes; as well as grilled meats, like jerk chicken.6
Another 29% would like to try African foods: wide ranging due in part to the multitude of regions that fall under this umbrella; one flavor profile that is trending is the spice blend found on shawarma, a meat dish that is often associated with Middle Eastern cuisine but also is widely consumed in Africa.7 Common spices found on shawarma include cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, turmeric, and pepper with each region may have a slightly different variation.
Further, 32% would like to try Korean foods: well-known dishes include bulgogi (beef BBQ), bibimbap (a mix of rice, assorted vegetables, meat and/or egg dressed in spicy gochujang), kimchi (fermented spicy cabbage). Korean cuisine carries flavours of sesame oil, chili pepper pastes, oils and flakes, soybean paste, garlic, ginger, and scallions.8
Authenticity is driving growth within the international category as consumers search for products that are true to the culture. As consumers try more global flavours, they increasingly seek region-specific cuisine.