Authenticity is a word that crops up time and again in the ethnic food sector, with most manufacturers insisting on the importance of provenance for their products.
This seems particularly prevalent in the Indian and Chinese sectors, where the brands vehemently defend their credentials as specialists.
“Buyers often say we are a niche brand, which really gets up my nose,” says Wing Yip MD Rod Honess. “We named the brand after its founder because it is authentic. The guy who makes our sauces will go into the depths of China to get ingredients that are all grown on Chinese soil, whereas some brands are quite Anglicised.”
S&A Foods, which recently relaunched 92 Indian dishes into Asda stores, is equally passionate. Says founder Perween Warsi: “Authenticity has never been so important. When I first launched S&A Foods recipe dishes into supermarkets, the buyers were afraid that the curries were too hot and wanted to take the product off the shelves. I had to persuade them that what they were tasting was authentic Indian food and that the spice levels were right and people would enjoy them. That was in 1989.”
Warsi adds that, in the past 10 years, the company has increased the amount of chilli in its curries tenfold and, to continue to ensure authenticity, the company employs chefs from the respective regions as it is “essential that they possess a deep knowledge and understanding of regional foods”.
Ben Briody, sales and marketing manager at soy sauce specialist Kikkoman, says people are definitely moving away from staples such as sweet and sour and black bean sauce in their quest for more exotic tastes.
Last month Amoy launched eight ambient sauces under the Stir Fry Sensations brand - in an attempt to show there is life beyond sweet and sour - as well as a premium soy sauce. Budgens trading manager Alan Clark also believes authenticity is important.
“Consumers are much more adventurous in where they travel and what they eat and they know what the real thing should taste like. What they want is good, wholesome, convenient products that they know they can count on to provide a tasty meal.”
The success of Brighton’s recently opened ethnic and organic specialist store Taj is testament to the fact that plenty of people are willing to visit such stores to source authentic ingredients. The company’s joint MD, Amir Khan, says Asian and eastern fare are moving well and there is particular interest in fair trade and organic.
Mumtaz, the Bradford restaurant which also supplies ready meals to Asda and Morrisons, has set up a retail extension to sell its ready meals, with a deli counter, an Indian-style sandwich bar and an Indian sweet counter. Operations director at Mumtaz, Rab Khan, says: “We have seen sales double year-on-year since we added this dimension and we are planning to roll out this concept nationally.”
But not all manufacturers believe authenticity is always important. Sue Knight, general manager at Premier Foods, which owns the Loyd Grossman brand, says: “I think we have a balance between authentic ingredients and UK tastebuds. For example, Thai green curry here is not as you would find it in Thailand, where it’s not green and it blows your head off. People get their cues from magazines and travel pieces rather than experience in the country.”