Speciality rice add more interest and flavour than plain counterparts, as well as globaltrotting appeal.
It may only make up a small share of the total rice market a small share of the total rice market at just over 5%, but speciality rice is growing in popularity and sales rose 41.5% this year (TNS July 2002). If sales of Italian rice are included, then the total market comes up to £12m - 8% of the rice category.
"People are attracted to speciality rices because they are a healthier alternative to many wheat-based side dishes, and add more interest and flavour to meal solutions than plain rice," says Elaine Underwood, chief executive of Latina Brands.
In May 2002, Latina Brands launched a range of Latin American rices to complement its Cuban and South American sauces. Brazilian yellow coconut rice, Cuban rice with black beans and Latin American rice with red beans went on sale in 325g boxes at Asda last week.
Underwood believes rice mixes, especially with pulses, will be a growth sector particular for vegetarians. "Pulses are a key part of their diet but all too often they are not in a convenient form.
"Mixing them with rice will not only make an interesting meal solution but it will forgo the inconvenience of having to soak them overnight," says Underwood.
Merchant Gourmet was one of the earliest players in the speciality rice sector with the launch of Camargue red rice in 1995.
It has since added white and wild rice, Nanjing black, Imperial red, Emperor's green, sushi and five organic rices.
"Authenticity, variety and convenience have been key factors in the growth of our speciality rices," says Alison May, marketing manager at Merchant Gourmet, which has seen sales of its speciality rices increase by over 40% in the last year.
Italian rice has actually seen a decline in sales after initially experiencing growth but this is probably due to the plethora of risotto rices fragmenting the market.
Like mainstream rice, risotto brands have also struggled to shake off the image of being difficult to cook. This is likely to change as Riso Gallo, the market leader in risotto rice, has introduced an easy-cook risotto and extended its Riso Pronto brand of quick-cooking risotto rices. The range includes five flavours: Saffron, Asparagus, Four Cheeses and two new flavours, sundried tomato and mushroom.
"Many people are scared to use risotto rice but the Risotto Pronto range and the easy to cook risotto rice should introduce new people to the sector," says Carlo Preve, marketing manager for Riso Gallo.
Other emerging speciality rices include Bomba Paella rice launched by Riso Gallo at the beginning of the year, Goan red, gold and black oriental from Veetee, and a Vietnamese rice from Blue Dragon to add to its current speciality range that includes sushi rice, red rice, Thai jasmine and sticky rice.