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By Sally Smithwick, Health & Wellness Content Contributor

Have you heard the news? While Italian food has been the favorite ethnic food of Americans for many years, Millennials now say their number one preferred ethnic food is Mexican. The report that comes from Datassential also shows that the Gen Z crowd prefers Mexican and Chinese  as well with Italian falling into third place.

Millennials have been dubbed the “foodie” generation meaning they take a more refined interest in their food than just satisfying hunger. Foodies approach food as a hobby. They are adventurous, enjoy photographing their food and sharing it on social media, enjoy watching chef shows, don’t always order the same thing at a restaurant, and have a deeper interest in recipes and learning about food. And some research suggests that Gen Z is an even more adventurous group of food lovers. Data from Morning Consult shows that they are 21% more likely to try a new beverage over the course of a month and 11% more likely to try a new packaged food.

As the ethnic population in the US continues to grow, multi-cultural foods are more available than ever, and that’s great news for foodies! Hispanic and Latino Americans now represent 18.9% of the population, according to the latest Census Bureau report. And IBISWorld reports there are now nearly 50K Mexican restaurants in the US, up 2.4% from 2022. Another interesting fact is that multicultural spending power, which includes Latino, Black and Asian, now outpaces that of white/Caucasian by $4 trillion.

What we also know about our younger generations is that they themselves are a more racially diverse group, and as far as their values and beliefs are concerned, a more inclusive and integrated community. Young children can be exposed to all different kinds of ethnic foods just within their school friends, whether it’s seeing the different foods their peers bring to lunch or attending birthday parties and celebrations where ethnic families serve meals, snacks and desserts that represent their culture.

While you may have a good idea of what your cultural mix of shoppers looks like at your store, be careful not to assume that your shoppers aren’t interested in crossing traditional food lines and trying new recipes, snacks, beverages and more exotic fruits and vegetables. In 2021, the New York Times published an article that addressed the controversy over whether international foods should live in the “ethnic” aisle or be integrated throughout the store. No matter what position is taken, the upside to having an ethnic aisle is that it gives these products more opportunity to shine rather than getting lost in a broader mix. And the added benefit is they are easier to find.

What’s on the shelves in your ethnic aisle, and how can you and your store’s team encourage your shoppers of all cultural backgrounds to try new things? As a retail dietitian, you’ll find many opportunities to showcase these products for benefits related to nutrition or plant-based dietary needs, and maybe offer some great new options for your shoppers with food allergies, diabetes or other health conditions. You’ll help relieve boredom for those that have restricted diets or just for those Millennial and Gen Z shoppers that are looking for a little more adventure with their food!

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