Ethnic foods altered to suit mainstream palates


For those vying to get authentic ethnic cuisine at the supermarket, they’ll have to settle for a more user-friendly version. Often ethnic foods are altered to suit the more conservative taste preferences of the mainstream North American consumer.

Take for example Hamilton’s Nem Foods, a maker of frozen Asian “influenced” cuisine. Owner Helen Thieu made a healthier and lighter “nem” or Vietnamese spring roll to cater to the North American health-conscious consumer.

The rolls contain more vegetable than her original authentic ones, which featured more meat and no cabbage.

The same issues arose for Nancy Manotas Ciancibello, owner and president of the Pleno Sol food plant in Mississauga, Ont., which manufactures empanadas, a traditional Latin American pastry when she started marketing to the masses.

After four years of taste testings at her stall at the St. Lawrrence Market in Toronto, Ciancibello’s empanadas are completely different than the original she started with.

She discovered that the mainstream Canadian taste buds disliked cumin and cilantro, main ingredients used in Latin America dishes, so instead she substituted them with paprika, a more subtle flavour.

To appeal to the health conscious, her empanadas are now baked, not fried, and the pastry is made of organic oil instead of margarine.

Packaging is also key to marketing to non-ethnic consumers. Clearly designed boxes that display the product’s heritage and provide information on a company’s philosophy appeals to non-ethnic consumers who may not be familiar with the product.

Especially when selling to grocery, the product packaging needs to look professional and appeal to both ethnic and non-ethnic consumers.

For example, packaging for Ciancibello’s empanadas features a large picture of the empanada on the front of the box so people relate the word with the actual product, it’s also third-party certified as organic, kosher and halal.

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