Everyday products, from popcorn to chips to dessert, are seeing an ethnic infusion as manufacturers strive to satisfy consumer demand for new and interesting offerings.

Consumers want new and unique food choices to spice up snacking. Fortunately, many manufacturers are exploring ethnic flavors and spices to make an ordinary bite extraordinary.

“There’s a need for new and tantalizing flavors,” says Deepak Kanda, president and owner of Punjabi Popcorn, Old Bridge, N.J. “There was a need for a popcorn flavor made with something aromatic, spicy yet palatable enough that a snack lover wouldn’t put it down. We want them to enjoy the new experience with every bite.” Punjabi Popcorn offers eight Asian-inspired popcorn options: Spicy Curry; Indian Caramel; Signature Punjabi; Desi Mirch; Extra Hot Desi Mirch; Turmeric; Jeera; and Butter.

“Growth in the ethnic foods categories is in learning what other countries eat and enjoy, and we’re trying to bring that to the U.S.,” states Kanda. “We want to create a fusion of flavor that will satisfy our consumers in the U.S. and also satisfy the consumers craving native flavors from their respective regions abroad.”


Pop flavors

Popcorn creates an easy palette on which to experiment with ethnic flavors. Though The Popcorn Factory, Lake Forest, Ill., didn’t intend to go after the ethnic market, certain emerging flavor trends were hard to ignore.

“When we were developing new flavors, we were inspired by what we eat at home, by interesting combinations we see at our favorite restaurants, different flavors we see at trade shows and industry events,” says Alan Petrik, COO.

What the company observed was the strong entry that Sriracha was making into many categories. The Popcorn Factory couldn’t ignore the trend, and introduced Sriracha-flavored popcorn into its original flavor lineup as well as its Lite Works Popcorn! line.

“When it came to creating our new Sriracha-flavored popcorn, the trend of spice and heat flavors in foods was gaining a lot of attention, and we knew we could create something delicious [with them] that our customers would enjoy,” states Petrik.

Sriracha isn’t the only innovative option within The Popcorn Factory’s new Lite Works line. Consumers can also enjoy Wasabi Soy, Dill Pickle and Sea Salt offerings.

“The launch of our Lite Works line helps dieters fulfill the crunchy, salty cravings they have while only having half the fat as our regular popcorn,” says Petrik. Introduced at the 39th Winter Fancy Foods Show in January, the Sriracha Lite Works flavor was recognized as one of the top five trends at the show.

Sriracha seems to be popping up all over the snack segment, making it a trend that Salem, Ore.-based chip manufacturer Kettle Brand couldn’t overlook. “American palates are craving bigger, more intense flavors, which are common in ethnic foods,” says Marc McCullagh, brand manager. “Kettle Brand Sriracha and Krinkle Cut Sweet Chili Garlic are our two newest potato chip flavors hitting store shelves now.”

With two-thirds of Americans choosing Asian food when dining out, Kettle Brand created these two options to authentically replicate the chili-garlic-vinegar taste found in the products’ popular condiment counterparts.

In addition to the Original and Krinkle Cut lines, Kettle Brand offers four other lines of chip products: Organic; 40-Percent Less Fat; Real Sliced Potatoes–a baked chip line; and Tortilla Chips.


Jerky goes global

The jerky category incorporates a variety of international flavors, including Sriracha.

Jack Link’s, Minong, Wis., embraced the Sriracha trend with its Wild Side line, released in August 2013. “Sriracha Beef Jerky is packed with an explosion of hot chili peppers and garlic,” says Kevin Papacek, director of marketing. The Wild Side line also includes Burrito Beef Jerky that Papacek asserts has an authentic south-of-the-border flavor.

“Consumers’ palates have expanded beyond traditional flavors,” states Mike Gerber, vice president of research and development. “We encourage consumption of new flavors and new foods by opening up the meat snack category to follow broad snacking trends.”

Other globally inspired options from Jack’s Links include Sweet Teriyaki Turkey Jerky, Small Batch Teriyaki Beef Jerky, and Teriyaki, Jalapeno Carne Seca and Cholula Hot Sauce Beef Jerkys. “Creating globally-inspired products is one way Jack Link’s is helping grow the entire meat snacks category,” states Papacek.

Other jerky manufacturers are hopping on board, creating ethnic options within the category.

“It’s always difficult to predict what ethnic flavors consumers will fall in love with,” says Brian Levin, chairman of the “herd” for Perky Jerky, Greenwood Village, Colo. “There are certainly mainstream favorites that seldom fail, but when looking at less conventional flavor pairings, it’s tough to predict [what] will succeed and what will fail.”

Relying on a favorite ethnic-inspired jerky option, Perky Jerky has introduced Teriyaki Beef and Teriyaki Turkey Perky Jerkys. “When creating new flavors we knew, looking at the trends in the marketplace…creating an ethnic flavor such as teriyaki was a must-have,” Levin says.

Other offerings from Perky Jerky include Original, Sweet & Spicy and Hot & Bothered Beef and Turkey Jerky. All of the products are low-calorie, low-fat and have lower sodium compared to other brands on the market, the company reports.

One reason that Asian flavors are big within the jerky segment could be that the flavors are familiar enough that customers are interested in consuming them, yet leave room for experimentation with spices and seasonings.

“Our consumers crave innovation, and our product line is built on developing unique, artisanal flavors,” says Jonathan Sebastiani, CEO of Sonoma, Calif.-based KRAVE Jerky. “Our two most popular jerkys, Chili Lime Beef and Teriyaki Pork, are both inspired by ethnic flavors, so it made sense for us to highlight that trend with our new offerings.”

KRAVE will release Sesame Ginger Beef and Five Peppercorn Beef options to Whole Foods Markets in June. Other current offerings include Basil Citrus and Lemon Garlic Turkey Jerkys, Black Cherry Barbecue Pork Jerky, Garlic Chili Pepper Jerky, Sweet Chipotle Jerky and Pineapple Orange Beef Jerky.

“In our effort to introduce new consumers to the merits of protein meat snacking, it was important to create a portfolio of flavors that intrigued prospective customers,” says Sebastiani. “Flavors are the colors of life, and bringing innovation and excitement to an otherwise boring jerky category was what I set out to do, day one.”


Middle East sweets, Mediterranean bakes

With all of the savory ethnic options, some consumers might opt for something a little sweeter. Fortunately, Jaafer Sweets, Chicago, specializes in Middle Eastern desserts and pastries, specifically Middle Eastern Baklava.

“These days, consumers are more interested in ethnic foods, as the flavor in each item is so different and a lot of craft and art is put into making these pastries,” says Hannah Saaydeh, co-owner and manager. “We’d like to make baklava as famous as cupcakes. These amazing pastries should be served in every home, every event.”

Jaafer Sweets makes a large variety of baklava products: Walnut Baklava; Pistachio Baklava; Pistachio Rings; Pistachio Burma; Pistachio Ballouria; Cashew Fingers; Cashew Burma; Bird’s Nest; Chocolate Baklava with Walnuts or Dates; and Vegan Baklava. “Once you try this amazing treat, you will want to devour it every day,” states Saaydeh.

However, when it comes to creating authentic ethnic products, sourcing the necessary materials is often a challenge. This is a common issue for many companies delving into the ethnic foods and flavors segment.

“One of the challenges we face is the rising price of inventory, especially the nuts,” says Saaydeh. “We do not replace our products with cheaper products. We aim to continue providing the finest and freshest, most delicious pastries.”

Jaafer Sweets has a few Sugar-Free Baklava options and also offers Knafeh, a sweet cheese pastry, and several other Middle Eastern pastries.


International on-the-go

Some consumers may be interested in an easy entry into ethnic foods, and that’s where Kronos Foods, Glendale Heights, Ill., comes in.

“Being able to trial products is a key to [ethnic foods’] success,” says Howard Eirinberg, CEO. “Some consumers may be afraid to try new ethnic foods. But once they try the product, they often come back for more, so getting over that initial barrier is important.”

Wraps have found success in this venue, as a replacement for bread in the average American’s sandwich, and Kronos is looking to do the same with its 6x6-in. Sandwich Flatbread. “Consider using it to put a spin on a standard roast beef sandwich or add spice to a tomato and basil chicken wrap. Sandwich Flatbreads allow for a cost-effective way to diversify any menu,” says Eirinberg. Besides its Sandwich Flatbread, the company offers 5x17-in. and 4x11-in. Thin Flats for the foodservice industry.

Kronos Foods has also found its sweet side with its new Sinbad Sweets Baklava Bites. Handcrafted and portable, the treats come in two-piece packs sure to appeal to on-the-go consumers.

Reaching on-the-go consumers is key for many manufacturers. Cedar’s Mediterranean Foods, Ward Hill, Mass., recognizes this as an opportunity to get more ethnic products into the hands of consumers. “Consumers are demanding new, innovative, healthy and convenient/ready-to-eat food products,” says Aimee Tsakirellis, director of marketing.

Cedar’s Pita Chips offer a healthful alternative to regular potato chips because they’re baked and contain 100 calories per serving. They’re available in Plain, Sesame, Garlic and Ranch options.

Wraps are another way that Cedar’s is trying to target the on-the-go consumer. It’s easier to eat a wrap on-the-run, than it is to consume a sandwich. The company’s wraps are available in Whole Wheat, Thin White, Spinach, Garlic Herb, Sundried Tomato and Basil, Honey Wheat, Red Pepper, Lemon Cilantro, Six Grain, and Southwestern options.

“Because the ethnic foods category is an endless platform to introduce new flavor profiles and product innovations, the growth opportunity is currently very high across all aspects,” says Tsakirellis.

Consumers are continuously looking for the latest flavor trend—the spiciest spice or the most satisfying sweet—and ethnic foods are just beginning to emerge to satisfy those cravings. More and more everyday products will see an ethnic infusion as this trend continues.