Should grocery stores retire the ethnic aisle?
A New York Times article recently explored the controversy surrounding ethnic aisles in supermarkets and the function they still serve.
Supermarkets first added ethnic aisles (sometimes called “international,” “Asian” or “Hispanic”) in the U.S. to cater to returning World War II soldiers who had discovered foods from Italy, Germany and Japan.
For some brands, however, placement in the niche aisle limits the potential growth that could be more accessible in heavily-trafficked category-based aisles. For instance, sriracha sauce now enjoys greater exposure in many grocers sitting alongside barbeque sauces and other hot sauces. Such placement also helps sriracha be increasingly seen as an ingredient beyond Asian cuisine.
Some charge the ethnic aisle basically features non-white foods and is out of step with the America’s increasingly diverse population.
David Chang, founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, called the aisle “the last bastion of racism that you can see in full daylight in retail America.”
The celebrity chef told The Washington Post that, as a child of immigrants, shopping in the ethnic aisle signaled he was an outsider. He wondered why Italian foods, such as olive oil and vinegar, had been integrated in regular aisles but not foods of other ethnicities, such as Chinese, Japanese and Mexican. He asked, “All the foods in the ethnic food aisle are already accepted. So why do we even have them?”
Nonetheless, grocers cite convenience as the reason for maintaining ethnic aisles as shoppers have been trained to find tortillas, soy sauce and turmeric in those sections. For many consumers and brands, the aisles still support discovery.
The Times article noted how brands often face challenges being repositioned into more mainstream aisles and that it often takes an acquisition by a larger company with co-op dollars.
In an interview with Business Insider last year, Miguel Garza, CEO of Siete Family Foods, said ethnic aisles provide founders with opportunities to “authentically express their cultures,” but he also lamented that many of his products compete for limited shelf space.
“I don’t understand it,” said Mr. Garza. “If something like salsa is now the No. 1 condiment in the U.S., why would it be relegated to one aisle?”
- Why Do American Grocery Stores Still Have an Ethnic Aisle? – The New York Times
- Millennials are killing the ‘ethnic aisle’ — and insiders and experts say that’s a good thing – Business Insider
- To David Chang, the ‘ethnic’ food aisle is racist. Others say it’s convenient. – The Washington Post
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you find the ethnic aisle antiquated or is it still playing a vital role in grocery discovery? Should products displayed in the ethnic aisle be integrated into the rest of the store?