These days most consumers seek culinary variety and are open to change (as long as that change is not seismic), and have become more adventurous over time. As the foodie subculture and the popularity of cooking-themed television shows demonstrate, a sizable minority place significant weight on culinary variety, suggesting a ready appetite for emerging food trends. For restaurants and food retailers there is latitude to push the culinary envelope further as part of strategies that incent trial and enhance product and brand engagement. According to recent report by market research publisher Packaged Facts, Asian noodle dishes are a vehicle to encourage consumers to try new things and explore variety. But we're not talking the budget-friendly ramen noodle varieties popular on college campuses nationwide. Instead, taking an authentic approach to this type of culinary innovation can help brands and menu dishes stand apart from mainstream noodles such as spaghetti.
Asian noodle dishes at restaurants are often the first exposure many Americans have to this cuisine. Preparing an Asian noodle dish at home can be as simple as microwaving ramen noodles, however, beyond that, preparing a more authentic dish requires a fair amount of culinary expertise and noodle knowledge. To a large degree, this is why Asian noodle dish consumption skews towards restaurant preparation. When it comes to Asian cuisine in particular, many often prefer to eat out because they aren't as familiar or confident with ingredients and preparations to make an authentic Asian dish at home.
"Restaurants have a hand in shaping society's increasing comfort with trying the new and different. Generally speaking, consumers show interest in new culinary experiences, however, some trepidation remains when it comes to actually trying different foods from other cultures. Through innovation and authenticity, Asian noodle marketers can help bridge the gap between interest and trial," says David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts. "Variety in Asian noodle dishes reflects the nuances of ingredients, shape, texture, preparation, and culinary application. However, when it comes to restaurant menu application, mainstream restaurant-goers have limited knowledge. To that end, we expect that as Asian cuisine continues to be mainstreamed, more specific varieties of Asian noodle dishes will become more prevalent."
Despite the market's reliance on foodservice as an entry point, gaining traction among culinary DIYers, those who avoid eating out for dietary or budgetary reasons, and others who simply prefer homecooked meals isn't impossible. Part of the problem is that there are a dizzying number of Asian noodles available, yet few are accessible in mainstream grocers. Packaged noodle marketers need to increase in-store marketing efforts to expand offerings in the ethnic aisle. Along with product expansion, marketing efforts should include samplings and in-store demos designed to demystify the idea that preparing an Asian noodle dish requires extensive culinary know-how. Likewise, marketers should also consider offering sample recipes that focus on quick preparation and keep flavors interesting but not too complex.