It’s no secret that Italian, Mexican, and Chinese flavors have led ethnic cuisine in the USA for decades. Now global cravings are shifting to largely Asian and Latin influences with younger generations. That’s not to say that Italian is going away. In fact, 82% of diners say they love or like it, and pizza has carried menus over the last two years. It does mean that operators need to get creative with efforts to differentiate their menus and tap into more regional flavors.
Let’s unpack the shifts by looking at generational preferences. Millennials are the first generation to say they prefer Mexican over Italian, and the numbers are shifting even more with Gen Z. When asked what one cuisine they could eat for the rest of their lives, Gen Z chose Latin/Mexican most often. In fact, half of the cravings that skew Gen Z are Latin- or Asian-inspired.
Secondly, let’s consider the shift in collective palate due to diversity in the USA. The Hispanic population has quadrupled in the past four decades. Now Latinos account for over half of the country’s population growth. In addition, the Asian population is the fastest growing ethnic group—up 35.5% over the past 10 years.
Thirdly, we can’t discount the prevalence of food savviness. It’s the new norm and a big factor in influencing global tastes. Gen Z enjoys boba, mochi, ramen, bubble tea, pho, churros, dragon fruit, Thai rolled ice cream, and more international favorites. They view the regional nuances of these items as commonplace and simply consider them as “food” options instead of “ethnic cuisine” as generations before them have. This extends to accepting popular dishes like bowls, tacos, pizza, nachos, and satays updated with Asian and Latin flavors.
What does this mean to you as a foodservice operator? The short answer is it’s time to shift menus to keep up with demand. But we can’t ignore challenges that impact restaurants overall. Labor shortages continue to be a fact of life so looking for low-prep options is key. Another consideration is that consumer preferences are always evolving. So starting small with fusion is fine. For example, expanding pizza or taco offerings to Thai chicken pizza or Korean beef tacos could be a step in the right direction.
The opportunity for operators who already specialize in Latin and Asian cuisines is to cement their places early, but competition will grow more fierce so continued innovation will help set them apart. Those who are not currently offering Latin or Asian fare, need to expand to include some global-directed dishes. Tacos, bowls, and pizza are great places to start for bases that can skew Latin, Asian, or Italian.
NSP can help! Count on us for easy-prep proteins that feature the ethnic flavors customers crave. Talk to your NSP rep today or call 918.274.8787 for help assessing your unique situation and what opportunities we can offer through innovative products and processes.