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How brands can curry flavour with ethnic shoppers

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If you’re an immigrant to a large Western city like London, your eating habits reveal which of four types of ethnic consumer you are, according to new research.

Whether you lust after a cheeky Nandos, keep it ancestral or crave novelty nosh, your food choices show your response to the push and pull of multiple cultures on your doorstep.

Ethnic consumers can’t just be placed on a sliding scale of how much they absorb mainstream culture, says the research, out this week from International Marketing Review.

“Global cities like London now receive more diverse immigrants from countries that may not have historical ties with the host country,” said Dr Bidit Dey at Brunel University London.

“The immigrants living in London interact with other communities and their cultures,” said study leader, Dey. “This means that the two-category acculturation model marketers and social scientists have used for understanding ethnic consumers has become too simplistic. 

“Our study shows that acculturation through food choice is a multi-directional phenomenon involving interaction between members of various communities that intermingle and blossom as co-existing entities – so a more complex model is needed.”

The team spoke to first-and second-generation immigrants – to paint a detailed picture of their food and brand habits, cultural and religious choices plus their drive to integrate. 

Looking across different ethnic backgrounds researchers identified four types of consumer:

Homebirds

These buyers seek out cuisine similar to that from their ancestral culture. A Bangladeshi, for instance, who didn’t find London’s Indian restaurants authentic enough, but gets her fix of hot and spicy from Nando’s. Fusion foods are likely to appeal for this category.

Novelty gnoshers
These are open-minded cosmopolitans, with fewer links to their ancestral or local culture. For example, an Iraqi who readily switches from shawarma and baklava to pub lunches on Sundays. Trendier global brands are likely to appeal for this category.

Refrainers
Refrainers adapt their food choices but within boundaries of religious, community or family values – but still need their ancestral diet in the long run. For example, a Tamil from a strictly vegetarian family now reluctantly eats fish after her doctor advised her to have more protein. Tailored products like KFC’s vegetarian or halal options are likely to appeal.

Rebels
These shoppers have maverick views about their family’s religious or cultural norms and authority, aiming to challenge or drop them to adopt cultures. For example, a Bangladeshi drinks alcohol, which upsets his more religious wife; and a Malaysian who can’t eat spicy food, which upsets his mother, but she cooks grilled salmon for him. Standard products and brands may appeal.

These new consumer types, which Dr Dey calls ResonanceRarefaction,
Refrainment and Rebellion will, he says make for better targeted marketing strategies. “Marketers need to be more aware of the nuances of presenting products and services to different groups of ethnic consumers. 

“But more than this, cultural sensitivity awareness ought to be a constant in marketing to improve cultural sensitivity among the public – and foster social cohesion.”

‘Towards a framework for understanding ethnic consumers’ acculturation strategies in a multicultural environment: a food consumption perspective’, by Bidit Dey, Sharifah Alwi, Fred Yamoah, Stephanie Agyepong, Hatice Kizgin and Meera Sarma, is published in International Marketing Review.

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Reported by:

Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268821
joe.buchanunn@brunel.ac.uk