Speciality rice is cashing in on exotic tastes, while wholegrain is feeding demand for health

The speciality rice market is performing well despite having suffered at the hands of microwaveable rice, which in recent years has been eating into shelf space.
The dry speciality sector managed to clock up sales of more than £10m in the last year, growing by 1.6% in value year-on-year [TNS 52 w/e May 22, 2005], with sales boosted by consumers continuing to travel more and, as a direct result, becoming more adventurous with food back in the UK.
“The desire for authenticity is reflected in speciality rice. Consumers are increasingly experimenting with new ethnic cuisines and choosing speciality rices to match their meals,” says Tilda’s dry rice brand manager, Stephanie Bain. She anticipates that the speciality market will continue to expand and grow in value over the next few years.
Echoing Bain’s words, Waitrose grocery buyer John Stokes confirms that the supermarket has seen increased sales of sectors such as Thai and Italian rice driven by “consumers becoming more confident in cooking at home, cooking what they have experienced on holiday or in restaurants”.
The growth of the speciality rice market has, not surprisingly, encouraged new brands to enter the market. Merchant Gourmet, which helped pioneer the speciality sector, last year added a unique rice to its range - Basmati Rice and Golden Pearl Lentils. The company says it has been “reviewed favourably” on the health pages of magazines and is becoming a staple for the health-conscious shopper. Its speciality rice range includes unusual offerings such as Camargue Red Rice, Imperial Red Rice and Nanjing Black Rice.
Varieties such as Thai Jasmine rice are showing good growth, up 5% in value year-on-year [IRI 52 w/e May 14, 2005], helped by the growing enthusiasm for Thai food.
Other speciality rices, such as wild rice, are also showing growth, although they still represent a niche market. Meanwhile, wholegrain is proving a winner for Uncle Ben’s, which has a strong presence in the speciality rice market with a range including varieties such as Thai boil-in-the-bag and wild rice, among others.
“Uncle Ben’s wholegrain rice is seeing significant growth due to the nation’s increasing interest in healthy eating,” says Masterfood’s trade relations manager, Joy Marsden, who claims that more than 650,000 new households have bought wholegrain rice this year.
To capitalise further on this trend, Uncle Ben’s has launched wholegrain rice in boil-in-the-bag and microwaveable formats.
Another offering to have benefited from the hunger for healthier food options is brown rice, as more and more consumers are choosing it as part of a healthy lifestyle. “There has been an increased interest in brown rice, which has been featured for its health benefits,” confirms Stokes.