In flavour: Kimchi

May 27, 2015
5 min read

As Britain’s food scene grows ever more prolific, competition remains fierce to gain share of consumer palate. In line with this, there have been a number of new Korean restaurant openings in recent months, including the second outlet of Bibigo which opened in Angel in January 2015. On the Bab also opened its second outlet, located in Covent Garden, in April 2015. The founders of On the Bab have been quoted as saying that they are also looking to open an outlet near St Paul’s in 2016, with plans for 10 outlets overall. Another Korean concept, Jubo secured a site in Exmouth Market in spring 2015, which will house its second UK outlet.

Such openings are raising the profile of kimchi – a traditional Korean side dish consisting of fermented cabbage. Mintel has identified it as a flavour trend opportunity which looks set to grow in importance in the UK. Whilst fermented foods are not common in the UK, the hot and sour flavours of kimchi should appeal to UK consumers given wider market trends for spicy food.

There are also indications that mainstream operators are beginning to leverage kimchi to create standout dishes in the wider eating out market. For example, lunch operator Pret A Manger launched a new ‘SuperBowls’ product range in April 2015, with four variants, including Korean Chicken & Kimchi. The dish includes egg, pickled cabbage, mixed raw vegetables and edamame beans served on rice noodles with Korean dressing.

Kimchi in fusion dishes can appeal to diners’ demand for ‘safe adventure’

By and large, in its traditional form, kimchi remains niche in the foodservice market at present – only 9% of those who have ever visited an ethnic restaurant/takeaway have visited a Korean takeaway/restaurant according to Mintel’s Ethnic Restaurants and Takeaways UK 2015 report. However, over one in five of UK diners claim to like familiar dishes with different flavours (such as Korean fried chicken). Tapping into this trend, Kimchi also now features in a number of fusion dishes (eg tacos and loaded fries) at recently launched restaurants such as JinJuu, Bad Egg and Foxlow.

Fusion dishes (such as Korean tacos) offer a more mainstream approach allowing a wider range of operators, such as pubs, to utilise this emerging flavour trend in the UK market. For example:

  • JinJuu Carnita Fries are described as Korean-Mexican Disco Fries with cheddar, slow-cooked pulled pork, and fresh kimchi, at new Korean fusion restaurant JinJuu which opened in Soho in January 2015. The venue also incorporates kimchi into its Korean Caesar Salad and it’s Pork Belly Tacos. A traditional side dish of kimchi is also available.
  • Street food trader Kimchinary serves Korean-Mexican burritos (which include kimchi fried rice and extra kimchi) and tacos (with fillings such as Korean pork with butter fried kimchi or Gochujang chicken thigh with radish kimchi).
  • Kimchi accompanies 10-hour beef short rib at Foxlow’s new outlet in Stoke Newington.
  • Diners are offered the option of adding kimchi to their cheeseburger at Hawksmoor restaurants.
  • Kimchi ketchup is used as part of The Asian hot dog at Dirty Bones in Kensington, London.

Such dishes should appeal to consumers looking for ‘safe adventure’. Fusion dishes such as the loaded fries already tap into established trends for loaded potatoes, suggesting that kimchi could be the latest flavour trend to re-invigorate this dish category.

Kimchi could help pubs create more competitive and exciting menus

40% of pub diners say that something that they don’t usually make at home is most likely to encourage them to choose a certain dish at a pub

The evident versatility of kimchi allowing it to be used across a number of dishes should also appeal to other operators looking to utilise interest in safe adventure.

Pubs in particular are likely to benefit from introducing kimchi onto menus given its niche availability. 40% of pub diners say that something that they don’t usually make at home is most likely to encourage them to choose a certain dish at a pub, according to Mintel’s Pub Catering UK 2014 report.

As such, kimchi could help reinvigorate interest in pub menus and counter the fact that 20% of pub diners currently prefer other restaurants to pubs because the dishes are more exciting.

In a similar vein to kimchi, operators also have the opportunity to leverage other Korean condiments such as gochujang (a fermented spicy condiment made from red chilli and fermented soybeans) in fusion dishes such as burgers to further play into interest in dishes with ‘safe adventure’.

Growing interest in niche ethnic cuisine

Fewer than one in ten ethnic restaurant/takeaway diners have visited a Korean restaurant, according to Mintel’s Ethnic Restaurants and Takeaways UK 2015 report. However, the expansion of kimchi onto menus at mainstream and fusion venues could help to raise the profile of Korean food generally in the UK.

Interest in a wider range of cuisine types is already evident amongst UK consumers, with 33% of ethnic restaurant/takeaway users saying that they would like to try more unusual types of ethnic restaurants (eg offering food from Burma, Laos, Peru etc).

What it means

  • The chilli flavours of Korean kimchi play into more established spicy food trends in the UK, suggesting that the dish should resonate.
  • Incorporating kimchi into fusion dishes (such as kimchi fries, tacos and burgers) can help mainstream operators appeal to diners’ demand for ‘safe adventure’.
  • Wider use of kimchi on menus should bolster interest in other Korean dishes too by breeding familiarity with the flavours of Korean cuisine.

Helena Childe, Senior Foodservice Analyst at Mintel, Helena is responsible for the UK Foodservice journal at Mintel, providing robust market coverage, in depth consumer research, analysis and strategic recommendations for the restaurant, pub and bar market. Helena regularly presents to clients as well as at industry and press events and frequently contributes towards articles published in the trade press, covering a wide number of foodservice topics.

Helena Childe
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