A new report from market analysis experts Datamonitor, Future Food Flavours, explores the extent to which the media has been instrumental in making food fashionable. Prompted by the cult of the celebrity chef, consumers are attempting to develop culinary skills, resulting in a rekindling of dinner party culture. While Indian food still dominates the British tastebud, Middle Eastern, Fusion and Cajun cuisine are all set to increase in popularity.

The media has had a profound impact on the consumers' taste buds over the past few years. The TV Chef, travel programmes, cookery books and the Internet have all encouraged the consumer to take a more adventurous approach to eating. Consequently supermarkets are stocking more exotic fruits, more diverse ready meals and more ethnic ingredients. However, the impact of the media on consumer taste buds has not been universal. The USA and the UK have thus far been the pioneers of the TV chef and subsequent development of a cult of personality, with the effect of making cooking a fashionable pastime. Other European countries have been less inclined to develop their chefs into TV personalities.

Delia Dominates
The Delia Smith phenomenon has taken the UK by storm. Her 'Back to Basics' approach to cooking, whilst antagonising more dynamic chefs, has struck a chord with the British consumer desiring traditional foods and recognisable ingredients. The nation appears to be split between those preferring traditional flavours and recipes and those in search of new and exotic tastes and dining experiences. What appears to unite these two factions however, is a growing desire to use ingredients effectively in order to create identifiable and distinct flavours with the minimum of fuss. The Delia Smith phenomenon is alien to many European culinary mentalities because to be shown how to cook is not perceived as necessary. However, education via the celebrity chef is paramount to the success of new products and flavours.

Many UK supermarkets have commented upon dramatic increases in sales of ingredients and products mentioned by Delia Smith on her television programs. The impact of the media is therefore most important to the success of new products, recipes and flavours.
A good indicator of the changing tastes of a nation is an assessment of its best selling cookbooks. The US and the UK have both been quick to capitalise on the cult of the TV chef and publish cookery books on the wave of this increased popularity.

Three key trends can be identified from the best selling cookbooks in the UK:

  • trend towards Asian and ethnic flavours and influences;
  • a 'Back to Basics' approach to British cooking;
  • the increased popularity of fish.

Further-flung Travel is Helping Tastes Develop
The globally exposed taste bud was once enjoyed and known to few, however the proportion of the population that regularly travels overseas is increasing. This has seen the evolution of a more cosmopolitan way of thinking, as a greater number of people are exposed to foreign cultures and cuisine. Not only are increased proportions of the population travelling but variety in travel is also dramatically expanding, with Asia, Africa and the Middle East key emerging destinations. The travel statistics are already being reflected in the type of food available in supermarkets. Food from Asia Pacific, in particular Thai, is currently experiencing mass popularity due to the attractiveness of the region among young backpackers.

UK outbound visits by region, millions, 1990-1998

Africa 0.7 1.2 71.4%
Middle East 0.2 0.4 100.0%
Asia 0.8 1.6 100.0%

Source: International Passenger Survey (CAGR= Compound Annual Growth Rate)

Polarisation of savoury flavours: the exotic and the familiar
Conducting interviews with chefs and major players in the food industry across Europe and the US, Datamonitor found that a polarisation of tastes is occurring within savoury flavours, as consumers are attracted to both exotic and traditional tastes.

Ethnic recipes are at present dominating the development of savoury flavours throughout Europe and the US, with the variety of available ethnic ready meals and cooking sauces expanding at a rapid rate as consumers become comfortable with diverse flavours. The spicy flavours of Indian cuisine have found favour amongst British consumers who now regard the Indian curry as more popular than traditional fish and chips. Indian ingredients such as turmeric, coriander, cardamom and chillies are now popular shopping trolley fillers as consumers become more ingredient aware. 'Too hot to handle' curries have been shunned by the majority of Europeans who shy away from hot and spicy flavours. Indian curries however are being popularized in France by making the flavours milder. Meanwhile Cajun and fusion food (which involves the combining of ingredients and cooking techniques from across the globe) are increasing in popularity in the UK as consumers desire foods that excite taste buds and offer a real flavour explosion. Marks & Spencer's latest range, Fusion Food, was launched in May 2000 and joins the recent Italia, Indian and Chinese take-away ranges that fall under the retailer's Global Foods Initiative.

Regional Tastes to Become the Next Big Flavours Craze
The increased popularity of ethnic food is seeing consumers demand more as they crave dishes that are truly authentic rather than meals with a 'manufactured spin'. Ready meals and cooking sauces now emphasise perceived authenticity in order to satisfy consumer demands. As consumers return from exotic holiday locations, their desire to recreate specific flavours is satisfied by regional offerings.

'Cuisine Terroir' Exists Alongside the Exotic
Whilst consumers are demanding more variety in terms of flavour, recipe and styles, a back to basics approach to food is coexisting alongside the movement towards the unknown. Described as 'Cuisine Terroir', the trend reflects the desire amongst consumers to experience regional or national dishes using traditional cooking techniques and ingredients. Restaurants in the UK have been quick to identify this trend, with traditional English fare appearing on many restaurant menus. Cont…
Cooking by Components Proving Popular

Sarah Nunny, Datamonitor food industry analyst and author of the report comments:
"The media attention given to food and cooking points to an obsession with all things gastronomic. With restaurants and supermarkets offering the exotic alongside the traditional, there is something for everyone. The media has played a large part in making food fashionable, and many consumers are attempting to learn culinary skills. Even for those consumers who don't want to cook from scratch, there is now a natural progression from trying cuisine in a restaurant, to then having the same food at home in ready meal format to then re-creating it by assembling it from ready-made components. A return to at-home cooking is leading to something of a rekindling in dinner party culture, as consumers want to entertain when experimenting with new recipes. "

"While cooking has become a major pastime, consumers are increasingly health conscious and many are attempting to have a healthier diet. More consumers are incorporating vegetables into their diets as supermarkets offer a wider variety of vegetarian dishes in their prepared meal ranges. Although this does not imply that increasing numbers of people are turning vegetarian, it does imply that a more health aware consumer is looking for flavour without having to compromise on taste. Products and cuisines that can satisfy consumer demands on health, flavour and convenience are ideally positioned. Middle Eastern cuisine successfully spans all three of these demands and is a potentially popular flavour for the future."

*'Future Food Flavours 2000', £2995. Datamonitor Sales 020 7675 726