How to position Indian food as a private brand

The search for flavor discovery is driving innovation.

Indian food evokes the senses like no other cuisine. Just ask those adventure-seeking millennials — they are big fans. Who can blame them? The warm smell of spices, the heat of the sauces and the colorful ingredients all combine to create rich and flavorful meals.

With the increased interest and acceptance of ethnic and exotic foods, the general Asian
food category is poised to take off. Just look at the numbers.

According to recent data from market researcher Information Resources Inc. (IRI), sales of all brands for Asian food were up almost 9% in the 52 weeks ending Aug. 11, 2019 (see table). But the real story is the growth in private brands. Sales were up 19%, while unit sales managed to grow 14.5%.

The search for flavor discovery is driving innovation across categories. But while Indian food specifically is no longer a niche concept, the right balance is still needed to help reduce the risk of trying something new.

“To overcome this challenge, we are seeing more and more retailers and manufacturers take an 80/20 approach to global flavor,” says Nicole Peranick, senior director of retail transformation at Daymon, an agency that specializes in building private brands programs for its clients. “That is, 80% approachable and 20% innovative to intrigue, but not turn off,” Peranick explains.

These product types allow consumers to experiment with Indian foods and flavors through more approachable formats.

“Think cardamom-pistachio ice cream, tandoori chicken pizza with naan as the crust, butter chicken spring rolls, pakora-breaded chicken strips, ‘bowlified’ Indian dishes and street food shareables,” Peranick suggests.

She predicts that private brand innovation that ups the ante on flavor exploration in this way will drive shopper engagement and reinforce program exclusivity.

While the bold flavors of Indian food may be on trend, the same can also be said for the quality and type of its ingredients. As a result of its overall health perception compared to the typical American diet, retailers and manufacturers are incorporating Indian spices and staples to enhance the wellness profiles of their products.

“Thanks to a host of wellness ties and connectivity to its indigenous Ayurvedic diet, traditional Indian spices and staples are becoming more commonplace as retailers and manufacturers incorporate them as key ingredients into everyday products to enhance their wellness profiles, as well as to dedicate more space on shelf to integrate these items into standard assortments,” Peranick says.

Deepak “Deep” Amin, CEO of Deep Foods Inc. in Union Township, N.J., agrees.

“Indian diets traditionally utilize ingredients that are on-trend such as turmeric, ginger, coconut and cumin,” he says, “which are being recognized for their health and wellness benefits.”

Much of traditional Indian diets focus on gluten-free, vegetarian, and plant-based foods that are high in fiber and low in saturated fat, he points out.

“Chickpeas, for instance, are nutrient-dense and are often used in the cuisine like in our plant-based chickpea masala,” Amin says. “You can also find the use of iron and calcium-rich spinach in dishes like our spinach paneer, among others.”

But those flavor-craving millennials are still short on time. Preparing Indian food can be time-consuming and complicated. Packaging formats like heat-and-eat and frozen single entrees would fit right in to their on-the-go lifestyles.

Trader Joe’s Yellow Tadka Dal features yellow lentils in a sauce of tomatoes, green chili peppers, butter, oil and features various warm spices. The private branded vegetarian product is available in a 10-ounce, microwaveable pouch.

In the frozen section, garbanzo beans are the star of Trader Joe’s 10-ounce channa masala and are sautéed with onions, tomatoes, peppers and spices including cumin and fenugreek.

Deep Foods’ Amin draws a correlation between global cuisine in restaurants and what consumers are shopping for in the frozen aisle.

“We’re finding the fast-casual restaurant experience allows consumers the opportunity to try a cuisine that can oftentimes be complex for the home cook to replicate if [that person] isn’t familiar with the cooking process,” he explains.

Filling the freezer case with frozen private label Indian food makes it more accessible to those consumers craving more adventurous eating experiences. Amin anticipates the mainstream grocery sector will be widely impacted by the rising popularity of Indian cuisine resulting in expanded offerings.

“With popularity strong in commonly recognized items like tikka masala and spinach paneer,” he explains, “we forecast the growing interest in exploring ethnic cuisine will drive expanded attention to regional specialties such as chickpea masala, lamb lindaloo and cauliflower korma, among others.”

For retailers who are still contemplating incorporating Indian food into their own branded offerings, what are you waiting for? Consumer interest is there, but restaurants are not fueling the trend as much as social media.

“Thanks to social media and the growing impact of the influencer community,” Peranick says, “many food trends are starting online as everyday consumers become home inventors and showcase their new and innovative food creations on social media to inspire others.”

The old days and ways of tracking food trends is firmly in the past.

“Consumers are breaking all the rules, and progressive retailers are being agile in evolving their private brand programs accordingly,” Peranick says. “The time is now to accept, embrace and evolve. Those who don’t will be left behind.”

Nevenka Jevtic is a contributing writer to Store Brands.