Millennials are hitting the ethnic aisle – and that’s a good thing


  • “Ethnic” is a term and grocery category that has become increasingly outdated as Americans taste change.
  • Krishnendu Ray, an associate professor and head of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University, told Business Insider that “Ethnic” is a residual category that includes anything that is neither considered Black or White.
  • Mainstream tastes have become more diverse and inclusive as immigrant millennials, who are almost twice as likely to be college-educated than previous generations, come into buying power.
  • But even though America’s taste in food is becoming more culturally diverse, it does not always translate to financial benefits for people from the cultures that make up the new mainstream foods.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

There is nothing in salsa, soy sauce and spice. So why is this seemingly random stuff often lumped together in one part of the grocery store: the ethnic aisle?

“In 2020, there is no longer a difference in people’s interface with these dishes,” said Vanessa Pham, one of the cofounders of Omsom, a direct-to-consumer startup that makes Asian food starter kits.

“The grocery store layout should be mapped to what the rest of the country looks like. The noodles should be next to the pasta. The Asian spices should be next to the western spices,” Pham said.

According to Krishnendu Ray, Associate Professor at New York University and head of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, the definition of “mainstream” in American cuisine is perpetually in motion, and the definition of what is outside it.

The term “ethnic” has always existed in American culture as a way of classifying things that were not considered Black or White, Ray said. At one time, Italian food was considered “ethnic”. This changed when people started to consider Italian Americans white.

“People are beginning to realize that ethnicity is this residual category that seems outdated and some take offense to it. For some people, classifying things as” ethnic “is like using” negro “or” oriental ” Looks, ”said Ray.

Vanessa’s sister and Omus’ second cofounder Kim Pham told Business Insider that the ethnic corridor actually reinforced the “other”.

Kim said, “Having them all speaks of a regularity on which you would expect these products to be used.”

Spice company Diaspora, company founder Sana Zaveri Qadri quoted Business Insider as saying, “We are immersed in it.” “To me, this is where everything tastes delicious. Everything is in that corridor with flavor.”

Ray said that the civil rights movement was instrumental in changing the way Americans consume food. Prior to this, foods and goods consumed by the upper class “were largely the same.” But after the civil rights movement, higher incomes and levels of education increased with being cultural “omnivores” or consuming things from a wide variety of cultures.

Today, American palettes have become more diverse than ever – both because of the increased interest from white millennials in foods with global origins, and the increasing purchasing power of immigrants and ethnic minorities in America. Immigrant millennials are almost twice as likely to be high-earning, college-educated individuals than the previous generation.

Qadri said that turmeric is an “ethnic” spice that has recently gained mainstream popularity, especially in wellness circles and high-end coffee shops. He is not concerned about who uses “ethnic” material or how, as long as the inventors get credit and benefit financially. But according to Qadri, this is not usually the case.

“Traders and translators are bearded white men,” she said.

While “ethnic” corridors provide founders with opportunities to “express their cultures authentically,” it also means that “ethnic” food companies are competing for very little shelf space, Miguel Garza, Siete Family The CEO of Foods told Business Insider.

“I don’t understand it. If something like salsa is now the number one scandal in America, why would it be replaced as an Isle?” Said Garza.