More Ethnic Dishes Are Headed for Supermarkets

Times Staff Writer

The convergence of more than 23,000 people from the food and supermarket industries ultimately focuses attention on new and potentially hot-selling products. And such was the case last week in Chicago as the Food Marketing Institute, a grocers' trade organization, held its annual conference featuring several hundred exhibits of food and household items.

On display were a number of products whose novelty overshadowed the latest variations on fruit juices or the continuing proliferation of upscale ice creams. Some of these items are worth a look.

Considering that Americans have been eating canned spaghetti or tamales for years, it should follow naturally that other ethnic cuisines would lend themselves to cans. So, taking the lead from Chef Boy-Ar-Dee is Pearl River Chinese Food Manufacturers, who is introducing "gourmet" Chinese food in 12- and 14-ounce cans.

There might be those who say that Chun King has been at that particular game for years. True, although Pearl River is incorporating Hunan and Sichuan dishes into its product line and offering some novel selections such as Pork Bellies With Preserved Mustard Greens, Duck With Tangerine Peels, Hot & Spicy Pork with Bamboo Shoots and others, the company is based in that citadel of Oriental cooking: Des Moines, Iowa.

Going Greek in a Major Way

Also in the ethnic realm are a number of Mediterranean items from Grecian Delight/Gyros Inc. of Chicago. The company will soon be distributing in California frozen versions of moussaka, pastitsio and a Gyros Family Pack, which includes six pita pockets, gyros (beef and lamb) slices and a sour cream and cucumber sauce dip. The company states this is the first time Greek food has entered the supermarket world in a major way.

If pita dripping with cucumber sauce is not exactly elegant fare, there's Duckling With Cherry Sauce from Maple Leaf Farms of Milford, Ind. The company is currently introducing whole duckling with a 4-ounce pouch of cherry sauce in the cavity for your basting and garnishing pleasure.

Then there is a Walla Walla, Wash., firm that is throwing potatoes for a loop and borrowing a chapter from onion rings. Tater Boy is introducing Curley Fries, which live up to their name by being circular-shaped French fries. The company is rather excited with this new frozen food item and calls the product "an innovation." Curly Fries, when straightened, measure about 12 inches, but Tater Boy promises that there will even be some that are 15 inches in length in almost every box for those who seek a wider circumference.

Picking up on the roundness theme is Vienna Beef of Chicago, which is hitting the markets soon with Bageldogs. These all-beef franks are "wrapped in fresh bagel dough made the Old World way." The only conceivable marketing problem for Vienna Beef is that the dogs are nearly completely wrapped in dough, except for a nub sticking out of both ends, and may prove difficult to coat with mustard, not to mention relish, onions or chili.

There might be those wondering what would be an appropriate beverage for a repast of Bageldogs and Curly Fries. The people at James B. Beam Distilling Co. would like to offer their new item as a solution: a cold, 375-milliliter can of Jim Beam bourbon and cola. The mixture has a 5% alcohol content, higher than a similarly sized can of beer, and is packaged with the Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey label prominent on the can.

Picking Up Pace--The flow of different and unusual products to supermarket shelves is continuing at a record pace. For the first three months of this year there was a 17.8% increase over the same period last year in the number of food and household items introduced, according to New Product News, a publication monitoring activity in this area.

The newsletter's editor, Martin Friedman, addressed the subject at the grocers' convention and stated that, "New products are truly the vitamins that keep this industry healthy."

Friedman conducted a survey of product introductions spanning the period 1980 through 1984 and found a few companies are much more aggressive with new items, flavors or varieties than others.

For instance, Campbell Soup Co. led the pack with 334 new items in the five-year period, followed by Nestle's with 293, General Foods with 279 and Beatrice with 234. The major consumer products firms with the fewest number of new supermarket entries in the past half decade were Kellogg's with 78, Coca-Cola with 57 and Pepsi-Cola with 49.

Commenting on Campbell's activity Friedman said, "That's a rate of 1.3 new items every week over the five-year period."

Politics and Bananas--The Reagan Administration's recently imposed trade embargo on Nicaragua will have little effect on available supplies of one of that country's major exports to the United States. The Los Angeles-based Fresh Produce Council reported that before the embargo the Nicaraguans supplied the United States with 15% of all bananas consumed in this country.

"Other South American commercial banana producing countries will have no problem keeping up with demand in the United States," the council reported.

Costs of Spring--New York Times columnist Russell Baker was recently musing about the precious signs of spring that faithfully rekindle fond memories each year. One of those items he associated with this season is the prized soft-shell crab.

However, with crabs becoming increasing elusive, the memories might prove increasingly distant. Baker wrote:

"Soft-shell or hard-shell, a crab never makes the least effort at sociability. That's why you need an expense account to enjoy one."

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