A staple food in much of the world, rice continues to undergo innovation in western markets. Convenience, organics and ethnic trends feature strongly in new product development, as Amanda Lintott reports.

This month Mintel’s GNPD (global new products database) category review focuses on rice. Over the last year and a half, the key trends to have emerged are the increase in ethnic offerings and the sustained importance of organic offerings. Convenient preparation and packaging continue to thrive.

In terms of new product launches, Europe has led the rice launches with almost 350 new introductions in 2002 through June 2004. In 2003, just fewer than 140 products were introduced in Europe, representing 32% of the total launches that year, a 12% growth over 2002. The Asia Pacific region was the next largest new product contributor in 2003 with just under 130 new introductions, an 18% growth over 2002. North America experienced a 7% decline in 2003, compared to 2002; however, according to projections based on Jan-June 2004 performance, North American introductions are expected to be flat compared to 2003. The Asia Pacific region launches are also expected to decline by 43% in 2004 over 2003, based on projections from first half 2004.

Looking at individual trends, ethnic foods are common in this category, as one in five products has an ethnic flavour. That ratio is even higher in Europe, with one in three products launched between January 2003 and March 2004 being marked as ethnic. As expected, Asian side dishes in western countries seem to dominate, with Thai, Chinese, and Indian varieties being particularly popular. Specialty varieties emerge to address the particular cuisine needs, such as sushi rice, paella rice, and basmati rice.

In the last quarter of 2003 gnpd reported on two new product introductions in Italy, Arnaboldi’s Riso alla Cantonese con Verdure, a Cantonese style instant rice meal with dehydrated and freeze-dried vegetables and Arnaboldi’s Prawn Biryani alla Indian Rice, an Indian prawn biryani dish with gamberi and curry, which contains real dried prawns and is ready in just five minutes. Around the same time, in Thailand, Riso Gallo introduced its Four Cheeses Risotto Pronto, Italian rice mixed with cheese.

In the first quarter of 2004, Unilever launched Lipton Fiesta Sides Taco Rice, in the USA , a rice and pasta blend with cheese in a taco-flavoured sauce. At the same time, in Argentina, Corporacion General de Alimentos introduced Gallo’s Special Varieties Koshihikari Arroz Pulido tipo Corto Japones Short Grain Japanese Style Rice, ideal for making sushi, with preparation time of 18 to 20 minutes.


A growing trend in many food categories is better-for-you products, but especially focusing on wholesome goodness, which translates to products that are organic, all natural, or with no additives or preservatives. Organic products have been evident in the rice category for some time now, and Mintel continues to witness this trend, now in private label as well.

In Malaysia towards the end of 2003, MD Kaderi introduced Zenxin Kahang Organic Brown Rice, described as the only organic brown rice grown locally in Malaysia, through an eco production system. The eco system sustains organic farming by integrating fish, azolla and ducks, all of which help control weeds and insects in a natural way. In Spain, retailer Carrefour launched Arroz Extra Rice under its Carrefour Eco brand at around the same time.

In France, Casino has introduced Casino Bio Riz Basmati Rice, organic, naturally perfumed basmati rice. While, in South Africa, Bunalun Organic Farm introduced its White Long Grain Rice, certified 100% organic. The rice is from Italy and is claimed to be ‘lovely, dry and fluffy’ as the rice doesn’t stick together when cooked.

Meanwhile, in the USA, Trader Joe’s Organic Jasmine Rice is promoted as a premium rice grown with intensive care in the valleys of Northern Thailand. Each box contains three microwaveable pouches that heat in three minutes.

Time is money

Most categories address the convenience trend that speaks to the consumer’s need for products to be quick and easy to prepare or use. Cooking rice can take 45 minutes, or longer, which can be undesirable for many time-pressed consumers. Manufacturers have developed advanced preparation methods so that the consumer can cook (or reheat) rice quickly – some products only take one minute to prepare.

One-third of the global introductions launched during the period reviewed are microwaveable, one of the best ways to reduce preparation time for the consumer. In the Asia Pacific region, 40% of the products were flagged as microwaveable. North America had 39% of the rice introductions positioned as microwaveable, and 34% of the European launches were microwaveable. Other rice introductions are par-boiled, thus significantly reducing cooking time.