Strategy consultants dine out on the hot topic of Asian flavours

15 May 2019 4 min. read

There’s a new hot (and sometimes spicy) topic on the menu for strategy consultants, almost literally; the rise of Asian flavours.

While long an anglicized go-to for consumers dining out in the West, Asian food flavours are currently experiencing somewhat of a renaissance, both at home and abroad, and in both the mass market and for maturing specialist palettes. And naturally, wherever there’s market growth or evolution, the strategy consultants can found, with a number of experts from some of the world’s leading consultancies recently chiming in on the hot topic of Asian flavours.

Firstly, at home. During the recent Food Industry Asia (FIA) Food for Future Summit in Singapore, local tastes were among the three consumer trends defining Asia’s food category for the year, the others being food safety and sustainability. Kantar Consulting (now under the single Kantar brand) – which launched its shopper & retail practice in Singapore earlier this year) – revealed some interesting figures at the event from its Global Monitor Survey.

“People are buying local food because they are proud of their local produces,” said Stephane Alpern, managing partner for Kantar Consulting in Southeast Asia. “For instance, 72 percent of Indian consumers show pride in their country by buying locally made products. In Vietnam, this figure is 62 percent; in Thailand, the figure is 57 percent.” One example is China’s growing obsession with hot-pot, with Frost & Sullivan tipping the local market to reach a mind-bending $100 billion by 2022.
Strategy consultants weigh in on the hot topic of Asian flavoursThis insatiable appetite has seen hot-pot restaurant chain Haidilao founder and chairman Zhang Yong, after taking the company public last September, become $6 billion richer earlier this year in the space of just a few months – the second fastest growth in wealth for any individual worldwide. Now Haidilao is looking to conquer the overseas market, with new locations in the works for the lucrative New York and London dining scenes.

The success of such an expansion strategy toward foreign taste-buds and fickle consumer trends however remains to be seen. “Haidilao was able to cut through the clutter of various Chinese hotpot operators through their exceptional service,” Jack Chuang, a recently promoted partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants told Bloomberg. “Whether Western customers will embrace hotpot – it is a big open question.”

And looking to past trends may not provide any clearer answer. While research from food & beverage market research consultancy Innova found that ‘ethnic’ flavours had grown in the US at a CAGR of 20 percent between 2013 and 2017, A.T. Kearney partner Bahige El-Rayes, in a conversation with industry platform Food Dive, noted that once ‘foreign’ flavours become more familiar to experimental consumers they may simmer down in popularity – citing wasabi as one example.

Others, such as turmeric, might transform “from a background spice ingredient to one with a role on center stage.” El-Rayes meanwhile pointed to some of the hottest new imported flavours hailing from Asia, including the spicy Cantonese XO seafood sauce, ginger cousin galangal from Southeast Asia – key ingredient in tom yum, a salty, fermented Filipino fish paste bagoong, and sambal oelek, an Indonesian chili paste from Java.

“Clearly as consumers become more adventurous, everything is on the table. It’s only a matter of time before these tastes find their way into products we can find on grocery or even mass-market outlets’ shelves,” El-Rayes told Food Dive, adding a cautionary note however for companies diving head-first toward the latest trend; “There’s definitely risk to going overboard in a given direction, and if it’s the wrong time, even the right product can fail.”