Millennials are killing the ‘ethnic aisle’ – and insiders and experts say it’s a good thing


  • “Ethnic” is a word and category of grocery store that is becoming more and more outdated as the tastes of Americans change.
  • Krishnendu Ray, associate professor and head of the Department of Nutrition and Diet Studies at New York University, told Business Insider that “ethnic” is a residual category that encompasses anything that is neither perceived nor perceived as black or like white.
  • Traditional tastes have become more diverse and inclusive as millennial immigrants, who are almost twice as likely to have a college education as previous generations, gain purchasing power.
  • But even as America’s taste for food is increasingly culturally diverse, it doesn’t always translate into financial benefits for people from cultures that are creating new, traditional foods.
  • Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.

Salsa, soy sauce and masala have nothing in common. So why are these seemingly random ingredients often grouped together in one section of the grocery store: the ethnic aisle?

“In 2020, it doesn’t look like the way people interact with these kitchens anymore,” Vanessa Pham, one of the co-founders of direct-to-consumer start-up Omsom, maker of meal starter kits, told Business Insider. Asian.

“The layout of the grocery store needs to be mapped to the look of the rest of the country. The noodles should be next to the pasta. Asian condiments should be next to Western condiments, ”Pham added.

The definition of “mainstream” in American cuisine is in perpetual motion, as is the definition of what is outside of it, according to Krishnendu Ray, associate professor and head of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at the University of New York. York.

The word “ethnic” has always existed in American culture as a way to categorize things that were not considered black or white, Ray said. At one time, Italian cuisine was considered “ethnic”. This changed when people started to think of Italian Americans as white people.

“People are starting to realize that ethnicity is that residual category that seems outdated and some take offense. For some people, classifying things as “ethnic” is a bit like using “Negro” or “Oriental” today, “Ray said.

Kim Pham, Vanessa’s sister and Omsom’s other co-founder, told Business Insider that the ethnic alley actually reinforces “otherness.”

“Having them all in one aisle shows the regularity you would expect these products to be used for,” Kim said.

“We’re kind of thrown in,” Sana Javeri Kadri, founder of spice company Diaspora, Co., also told Business Insider. “For me, that’s where all the delicious things live. Anything with flavor is in this aisle. ”

The civil rights movement has played a central role in transforming the way Americans consume food, Ray said. Before, the food and goods consumed by the upper class were “largely uniform.” But after the civil rights movement, higher levels of income and education became increasingly correlated with being a cultural “omnivore”, or consuming things from a wide variety of cultures.

Today, America’s palettes have become more diverse than ever before – both due to increased interest by white millennials in world-origin foods and the increased purchasing power of immigrants and ethnic minorities in the States – United. Millennials are almost twice as likely to be high-income individuals and college graduates as the previous generation.

Turmeric is an “ethnic” spice that has recently gained in popularity, particularly in wellness circles and high-end cafes, Kadri said. She doesn’t care who uses “ethnic” ingredients or how, as long as the people who invented them get the credit and benefit financially. But according to Kadri, this is usually not the case.

“The traders and translators tend to be white men with beards,” she said.

And while the “ethnic” aisle offers founders the opportunity to “authentically express their cultures,” it also means that “ethnic” food companies compete for very little shelf space, said Miguel Garza, CEO of Siete Family Foods, at Business Insider. .

” I do not understand. If something like salsa is now the number one condiment in the United States, why would it be relegated to an aisle? Garza said.


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