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New Canadians = new consumers

With the right products, a growing ethnic population represents a valuable opportunity for c-stores.
Darren Climans
Foodservice Consultant
Darren Climans

FAST FACTS

Globally, the ethnic foods market is projected to grow 10.33% annually—to US$98 billion in 2028, up from US$49 billion in 2021, according to Fortune Business Insights. Asian flavours are expected to fuel this growth.

  • By 2036, immigrants are expected to represent up to 30% of Canada’s population
  • In the next three years, Canada will welcome 1.2 million immigrants
  • 640,000 international students attend Canadian colleges and universities each year

Canada, like many countries, has an aging problem. As a society, we’re getting older. The cause is a combination of a general increase in life expectancy, and a century of declining fertility rates: Unchecked, this is a recipe for population decline and economic stagnation.

In response, the Canadian government has unleashed a plan to dramatically support increased and sustained levels of immigration. Canada exceeded its immigration target and “welcomed more than 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021. Surpassing the previous record from 1913, this is the most newcomers in a year in Canadian history,” according to a release from the Federal Government.  

2022 was another record-breaking year, when more than 430,000 immigrants arrived. The targets for the next three years are higher still—465,000 in 2023, 485,000 in 2024 and 500,000 in 2025. By 2036, Statistics Canada projects that “immigrants will represent up to 30% of Canada’s population, compared with 21% in 2011.” In addition, 19.7% of the population will have at least one parent who was born outside of Canada. Essentially, nearly half the population will be first or second generation.

Customers not numbers

These aren’t just numbers, they’re your customers: Considering these immigration trends, the demand for ethnically diverse food and beverages is skyrocketing.

Particularly so if your c-store is in a large urban centre. In 2021, South Asian people represented more than 10% of Toronto’s population. Vancouver is home to the second largest populations of Chinese, South Asians, Filipinos, West Asians and Koreans in the country. Montreal has a larger than average proportion of Arabs, Black, and Latin American peoples. In the Prairies, the profile is uniquely Filipino. In 2021, more than one in four Filipinos in Canada lived in the regions of Calgary (9.3%), Winnipeg (8.8%) and Edmonton (8.4%), according to Statistics Canada.  

Even smaller communities are growing through immigration.

Thunder Bay, for instance, is a microcosm of this phenomenon. immigrants make up “nearly 9%  of the city's population… Roughly half of those newcomers are from Europe, while the rest are split between Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South and Central America,” according to a CBC report about what’s propelling the growth of small business in the area.

This demographic tsunami is driving change, both in the food offerings and the expansion of the taste sensibilities of Thunder Bay residents. The city now offers authentic Syrian and Portuguese fare. Milktease bubble tea shop has opened three locations in Thunder Bay since 2020, tapping into the popular Asian fare.

In turn, getting to know your changing community, then ensuring you are stocking the products, services and menu items they desire is essential for c-stores to thrive.

As an added incentive, the market for ethnic-inspired foods goes beyond people craving a taste of home. Mintel research from 2019 found that more than half of Canadians say they are more open to eating international foods than they were a few years ago, while 77% agree international foods are more mainstream than they used to be. 

And that’s just the beginning. Globally, the ethnic foods market is projected to grow 10.33% annually—to US$98 billion in 2028, up from US$49 billion in 2021, according to Fortune Business Insights. Asian flavours are expected to fuel this growth.

Data-driven decisions

Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power. As the world increasingly migrates to a digital footprint, acquiring consumer knowledge has become easier.

Google Trends is an open resource you can use as a reference to benchmark consumer interest by province and city. For instance, the data reveals that online interest in Indian food in Canada has generally been trending upwards for the last five years. Provinces with the highest levels of activity at the beginning of 2023 were British Columbia Ontario and Manitoba. Further, clicking on “B.C.” allows you to drill down by city, revealing Penticton and Surrey to be the top two geo-locations for topics relating to Indian food.

In addition, Google Trends can be a source to inform innovation in your foodservice offerings. If you are thinking of a new Mexican ethnic entrée, for instance, you can use Google Trends to bubble-up ideas. A few clicks on the site let you check on the penetration of “viral” TikTok foods like Jalisco Barria Tacos, a braised beef taco served with a beef broth dip that is popping up across Canada in kiosks, markets, food trucks, as well as restos run by celebrity chefs.

A data-drive approach can also help discern what products interest your local target market.

In Hamilton, Ont., the owners of Pasta Mercato—founded in 2021 as a small grocer with a takeout restaurant—wanted to grow, but they weren’t sure how. They tapped into My Main Street (mymainstreet.ca), a government funded small business data-driven accelerator designed to support spur business growth in 65 communities across Ontario. The resource produced a market research report tailored to their neighbourhood. Using this consumer data, Pasta Mercato determined that their customer base was likely interested in premium products and would support them if they improved the quality of their coffee and food ingredients. Customers “responded by spending an average of 15% to 20 % more per cheque,” according to a piece in The Globe and Mail.

As an added incentive, multicultural Canadians spend 1.5X more on consumer goods than the general population, according to research from Ipsos.

Given their numbers, growth, and outsized purchasing power, ethnic product lines promise c-stores the potential for increased foot traffic and bigger basket sizes.

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