At the beginning of this month, RN visited Woodhouse Road Londis in Leeds – a business the symbol group has used to showcase its best practice. And here, given a shelf of its own, was a wide range of American confectionery.
“Customers see the brands on Netflix and want to try them,” the group’s brand director, Martin Swadling, said.
This is just one example of the changing nature of the world foods category – once relevant only to a minority of stores in cosmopolitan areas where immigrant communities would be looking for a taste of home. With a new generation of customers emerging who are comfortable with (and are demanding) the ingredients of a wide array of cuisines, many stores are keeping on their toes and adapting their world foods ranges on a regular basis.
Finding international favourites
Mehmet Guzel’s Simply Fresh Bethnal Green store sits in the middle of east London, a part of the capital which sees local long-term residents of multiple nationalities living alongside young professionals new to the area. As a result, his store must cater to a wide variety of tastes and interests.
He says the most successful international foods to look out for are those that are ubiquitous in their home countries, before getting repackaged as trendy products in the UK. Agua de coco, for instance, is a staple fresh soft drink in Brazil. Here in the UK, coconut water comes pasteurised in cartons, and we have quickly become the world’s third-biggest consumer after Brazil and the US.
Mehmet warns sales of trend-driven international products can be unpredictable and fast-changing, however. “Interest in bottled coconut water has actually diminished in the past few months, and quinoa is another international product where sales are not as strong as they were,” he says.
“New products emerge all the time, so it is a good idea to ask customers what they are interested in. For example, sales of kombucha drinks, which is a fermented black or green tea usually drunk in China or Russia, are increasing.”
Ordering sensibly is key
This is a dynamic category, so as well as asking shoppers what they are on the hunt for, it can be helpful to talk to international staff before adding a new line. Robert Kirkwood, of Mossgreen Convenience Store in Dunfermline, says while international foods do not make up a large part of his shop’s offer, he stocks a small number of Polish items. He advises deferring to the expertise of staff with local knowledge of what is popular: “One of my managers is Polish, so she will do the order for those products.” He says stock orders are managed carefully, with world foods ordered on an ad-hoc basis. “I don’t have standing orders for these products, as the ordering quantities are usually small,” he says.
Ordering carefully is essential for smaller stores, where each product stocked has to earn its keep on the shelf. Faraz Iqbal, of Premier Linktown Local in Kirkcaldy, says: “I only have 1,000sq ft to work with, so I order international foods only when customers specifically request them. Once I have them, I then monitor sales carefully. The products that turn over well get to stay.”