AB World Foods, the ethnic foods unit of UK group Associated British Foods, has set its sights on building its presence the US as it expands its business internationally.

The company, which owns a range of ethnic brands including Blue Dragon, was set up in March following ABF's acquisition of Indian cuisine business Patak's.

AB World Foods sells into around 40 countries and, according to international marketing manager Emma Walters, the company has targeted the US as one of its priority markets.

Speaking to just-food at the SIAL food industry exhibition in Paris, Walters said that AB World Foods was looking to build on its brands' nascent presence in the US through a series of educational and sampling initiatives.

"It is difficult to target people in the US who are open to trying Indian food," Walters said today (20 October). "The main job is to educate."

AB World Foods has listings "in a number of national retailers" in the US including Wal-Mart, Walters said, but the company is eyeing expansion.

"[Ethnic food] is a niche [in the US] but sometimes a niche [in the US] can be even bigger than a European country," she added.

More broadly, AB World Foods is looking to build the presence of Patak's and Blue Dragon in markets where one of the brands had already historically been popular. Scandinavia, Walters said, had been a key market for Blue Dragon, while Patak's was already "very well established" in markets like Australia and Canada.

Walters admitted that the rise of private label was proving a challenge to AB World Foods in a number of international markets, particularly during the current global economic downturn.

However, Walters said she was upbeat about the strength of the company's brands. "Retailers are open to keeping a brand alongside private label. If consumers start to scale back on takeaways, then they will buy into a brand, rather than really scaling back to private label. We'll ride it through."