“Indian food is really hot in the US. We are seeing more and more Indian restaurants and it seems to be moving from an ethnic niche to something more mainstream. For example, they now have banners for Indian food in the grocery store,” said David Wilson, sales director of Amira in the US.
At the same time, he said, “ancient grains are getting a lot of media coverage and consumers – not just serious health consumers – but mainstream ones as well are picking up on the health benefits of ancient grains,” and are learning the wide variety of ways to cook with them in side dishes, salads and even smoothies.
The fragrant long grain Basmati rice stands at the crossroads of these two major trends given that it is the oldest ancient grain available and it grows in the foothills of the Himalayans, helping to make it a star ingredient in Indian cuisine, Wilson told FoodNavigator-USA.
In addition, he said, the rice touches several other hot food trends. For example, the grain offers a better-for-you nutritional profile than some other rice, including a low glycemic index and 20% more fiber. It also has a less sticky texture than many other types of rice and an exotic flavor that is associated with multicultural cuisine.
For these reasons, Amira thinks now is the time to move Basmati from a niche product in specialty stores to one broadly available in mainstream channels. As a result, the company in the last 18 months has expanded distribution into more retailers with a one and two-pound bags, organic options and several blends, Wilson said.
“We have been really encouraged by consumer response … and their willingness to upgrade in the rice category” to Basmati, he said.
To succeed in the long-term in the mainstream channel the rice will need to overcome several barriers – including lack of consumer awareness, the idea that carbs are bad and the misconception that rice is boring, Wilson acknowledged.
“Part of our challenge is informing the American public about what Basmati is and how it is different than Uncle Ben’s long-grain rice,” which sells at a lower price point, has a different nutritional profile and different flavor and texture, Wilson said.
The company is addressing this and the other challenges through an aggressive sampling campaign.
While consumers try the product, company representatives talk about its health benefits, and rely the message that not all carbs are bad.
As part of the ancient grain movement and Amira’s education efforts, “consumers are picking up on the fact that there is a carb that we can put on our plate that is not just a nutritional vacuum, but has positive nutritional attributes,” Wilson said, noting Basmati is a source of slow release protein.
The company also is addressing the misconception that rice is flavorless by launching a smoked Basmati, which hit stores shelves about a year ago. “Retailers really loved the smoked rice because it is something different and other smoked rice is in the market. At the same time it exemplifies the high quality of all our rice” and is a good gateway product for Basmati, Wilson said.
Expanding into blends, snacks
Amira plans to build on the momentum of the smoked Basmati as well as its other brown and white conventional and organic options, by launching new stock-keeping-units in 2016, including different blends that include other ancient grains.
It also is exploring ready-to-eat formats that simply need to be reheated in the microwave for a fast, convenient food. This also would open the door for adding other ingredients and flavors to create microwavable side dishes, Wilson said.
While rice is the main focus of Amira, Wilson noted that the company hopes to branch into other areas, including bringing to the US snack foods it already sells in other countries around the world.
While the format and blends of the new products will change, the company will remain constant to its “passion for purity” to ensure it is delivering the highest quality products possible, Wilson said.