Fair Food Choices Take in Ethnic Variations

Discussion
Sep 02, 2010
Bernice Hurst

By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

Brad Wolverton of The Washington Post describes the summer fair as “an annual eating extravaganza that seems to guarantee every American the freedom to leave their diet at the door for at least one day.” Starting this year’s tasting season at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair, Mr. Wolverton dives into pupusas – tortillas filled with unique combinations of grilled Colombian chorizo, mozzarella, “peppery salsa and vinegary slaw.”

Mark Isaza, his business partner Arnoldo Ulloa, and their helpers make nearly everything from scratch and operate one of the larger food stands at the fair. Besides the pupusas, they offer healthful items such as Ecuadoran fruit salad made from melon, strawberries and pineapple.

Mr. Wolverton describes previous experiences primarily consisting of funnel cakes, corn dogs and cotton candy. He says that fair food is still made by stall-holders who put “just about anything on a stick” before dropping it in a fryer, including delicacies such as avocado (California), cheese curds (Minnesota) and even chunks of butter (Texas). Apparently this summer’s Iowa State Fair “features some 54 foods on a stick, including deep-fried Ho-Hos, pickles and pineapple.”

Other stalls in Montgomery County include Nick Strates’ Greek stand, featuring what some fairgoers say is the event’s best dish – Demetri’s gyro.

As recently as a decade ago, many fairgoers weren’t as familiar with Greek food, said Mr. Strates, a first-generation Greek American. “I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing or if it’s generational,” he said, “but younger people – be they white or ethnic – are buying our food.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Wolverton savors a typically American favorite – corn on the cob – sold both traditionally or with a Latin twist, exclaiming about the ways in which a single food can “straddle the line between the familiar and the exotic.”  He finishes his tour with an Oreo dipped in cake batter and deep-fried to make “the cream in the middle all melty and the cookie soft.”

The range of choices available to fair-goers of different ages and ethnic backgrounds celebrates diversity, he believes. Judging by the popularity of each dish he describes, having that range of choices is appreciated by many.

Discussion Questions: Is there a significant opportunity to broaden the range of ethnic foods found at fairs to retail food stores? Should more of the food found in fairs – albeit largely of the fried variety – be more widely adopted by retailers for year-round eating?

[Author’s commentary]  State and County Fair season is providing massive material for journalists and bloggers indulging both their cravings and their attempts to reconcile that indulgence with dietary righteousness. Julia O’Malley of the Anchorage Daily News shared her fair food with a dietician and wondered, like Brad Wolverton, if there are lessons to be learned from foods that are never eaten at any other time of the year.

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

8 Comments on "Fair Food Choices Take in Ethnic Variations"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 8 months ago

I don’t know if fried meat on a stick is an item people are likely to eat at home, but there is definitely room for greater ethnic variety in retailers’ food assortments. A better example than county/state fairs might be casual dining restaurants such as The Cheesecake Factory, which routinely generate two-plus-hour wait times by serving a wide variety of ethnic foods in huge quantities. Mix-n-match dishes combining multiple ethnic traditions, while probably horrifying to purists, are also a big draw at many restaurants. Deep fried Snickers bars might be better left for eating on the food pavilion next to the bumper cars while a live performance by a one-hit wonder from 1974 wafts in the background.

Joan Treistman
Guest
10 years 8 months ago
I can remember a trip to Arlington Heights, IL about 20 years ago (longer?) when my colleague, Sanjeet, ordered a bagel. The waitress asked, “What’s a bagel?” Sanjeet explained. I could not help but think the waitress went home and told her family that she learned about an unusual Indian delicacy. Then Lender’s spread the word. I think that fairs can introduce new ethnic dishes to some of the people some of the time. But it will take something on a grander scale to get the word out on particular taste treats. Where I do think that fairs probably play a pivotal role is introducing their visitors to the possibility of trying something “new” to them. Once you’ve experimented and had a pleasing taste outcome, you’re willing to try another food experiment. There would probably be greater financial success in retail stores because there is greater access to those of age and wherewithal to actually buy the food. Think about the long lines of food tasters at Costco. As our country’s population continues to become… Read more »
Justin Time
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Fun ethnic foods on a seasonal basis spell big bucks for supermarkets.

There is a run every year at A&P, SuperFresh and Pathmark locations for Paczki, Polish creme and fruit filled fried donuts. But the window for selling them is only until Fat Tuesday because Ash Wednesday starts lent and it would be a sin to be caught eating these heavenly donuts.

Italian, Chinese, Polish pirogi etc, have been staples in supermarket cuisine offerings for many years. Extensions of these and other kinds of ethnic dishes, on a seasonal basis, will generate new sales and perhaps,new loyal customers.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Indulging in fair food varieties is just that; a several day long opportunity to try various ethnic choices. It can be related to the movie theater giving you snippets of upcoming movies so you can choose what you want to see in the months ahead. Fair food allows us the same opportunity. The Food Vendors usually operate a restaurant in the area. This is their time to show us what their menu items will taste like and offer us the place to get it…their restaurants.

Grocers sell ethnic varieties that coincide with the demographics of the neighborhoods they serve. More than that will not lead to increased sales.

Carlos Arambula
Guest
10 years 8 months ago
Questions: Is there a significant opportunity to broaden the range of ethnic foods found at fairs to retail food stores? Should more of the food found in fairs – albeit largely of the fried variety – be more widely adopted by retailers for year-round eating? I believe this is a situation where if one looks at the “small” picture the opportunity is missed. The “big” picture includes the food network and other cooking shows and their popularity. There is a definite and clear opportunity for more ethnic foods and flavors at the grocers aisles. Of course, there will be some markets where it will be more popular (mainly large metros) but over the years ethnic flavors and products will become a larger part of American cupboards. The big picture has shown that in more than 200 years ethnic foods have changed what we consider “American” and not the other way around. One day we might replace hot dogs and apple pie with burritos and churros. How does hummus and tortilla chips at the ballpark sound?
Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
10 years 8 months ago

I wouldn’t say offering fair and festival foods in the grocery store is a “significant opportunity,” but it’s definitely an opportunity for savvy retailers and CPGers. Whole Foods, for example, recently launched a Street Eats initiative in San Francisco wherein the chain is bringing into its stores some of the unique foods cooked up by street vendors. It’s a great idea that immediately differentiates the brand and creates a product exclusive. Same thing with unique fair and festival foods.

My only caution: there is a difference between an annual indulgence and putting an item in the weekly grocery cart. Any foods under consideration should be selected with care to ensure that they don’t become one-time buys for consumers vs. frequent staples.

John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
10 years 8 months ago

I like this combined with the celebration of a culture represented in the community it serves. Publix does an excellent job with this.

Devangshu Dutta
Guest
Devangshu Dutta
10 years 8 months ago

If the question was: is there room for America’s supermarkets to be more of a melting pot than they have become in the last 20 years, my answer would be, yes. North America’s population and cuisine has diversified with every wave of immigrants over centuries.

There was a certain standardization through the phase where supermarkets grew nationally, more from the perspective of managing SKUs and the inability to manage too locally. However, with diversifying pockets of population, data driven processes, and a management will to go “glocal” (if I may use that term), US supermarkets can play to ethnic tastes very effectively and should.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

How would you rate the opportunity to add more fair foods to grocery stores in the U.S.?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...