The debate continues – should grocery and convenience stores feature international aisles or not? Is the practice that began in the 1950s with Italian, Jewish and Chinese products still necessary or appropriate today?
The argument goes that there is no need for a separate international food aisle because many of these items have crossed over into mainstream. Despite this blending, there continues to be advantages for having a separate and dedicated aisle (or aisles) for international food. Retailers must always be customer-centric. If ethnic consumers frequent your store, you need to make it easy for them to find the ethnic products that they are searching for. The research continues to show that ethnic consumers are double-shopping. They will visit mainstream stores, but they will also go to their ethnic stores. The more ethnic product a grocery or convenience store can offer, the greater share of wallet the store will capture.
The numbers bear this out. One in five Canadians is foreignborn – equivalent to the population of Quebec. Over the next three years, the government will welcome an additional 1.2 million permanent residents. Add to that the 640,000 International students who are also here, and you have a massive segment with specific needs to feed.
And the easy-to-find international aisle with foods of the world will be frequented not only by ethnic consumers but also by mainstream shoppers. Research has shown that non-ethnic consumers living in our Canadian mosaic enjoy ethnic foods. Millennials, with their spirit of adventure, and often being foodies, over-index in this regard. Indeed, 30 per cent of Millennials in Canada are ethnic. For Gen Z, the number is 26 per cent and growing.
Accordingly, the real question is whether grocers should be expanding the number of aisles dedicated to the foods of the world.
If you have or are planning to create an ethnic aisle, it is important to have the right products and brands. Mainstream stores are never going to be able to stock the depth and breadth of an ethnic-specific store, but that doesn’t mean they can’t grab market share. Work with experts who understand what the key categories and brands are. You might not have space for 10 different brands and all the sizes, but you may have space to stock the top three brands in the top two sizes. And don’t forget about ethnic holidays. Use those end-aisle displays and other areas of the store to highlight the availability of the products. Don’t expect consumers to come if they don’t know about the existence of your ethnic aisle. It’s key not only to have the right products and to make it easy for consumers – both mainstream and ethnic – to find them, but also to market the fact that the products are there.