The Effect of Immigration on the Tastes &Amp; Preferences in Food of the Native-Born Consumer

Denver D’Rozario, Howard University
[ to cite ]:
Denver D’Rozario (2002) ,"The Effect of Immigration on the Tastes &Amp; Preferences in Food of the Native-Born Consumer", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 242.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Page 242


Denver D’Rozario, Howard University


The international migration of people has in the twentieth century become one of the biggest factors affecting demographic trends in most countries on earth. According to one estimate, the total number of migrants in the world stands at approximately 100 million (Hammar and Tamas 1997), with this figure only increasing every year.

Given the fact that the U.S. is the largest economy in the world, it has been and is projected in the future as well, to be the single biggest recipient of immigrants (Hammar and Tamas 1997). This massive influx of new residents, has led to a rise in the percentage of America’s population comprised of immigrants from 4.8% in the 70s to 9.3% in 1998 (CNN 1999).

As a result of this immigration, the U.S. has been transformed from a largely uni-cultural society to one that is increasingly multi-cultural (Utley 2001). At present, 71.3% of the U.S. population is White (non-Hispanic), 12.2% is Black (non Hispanic), 11.9% is Hispanic, 3.8% is Asian and Pacific Islander and 0.7% is Native-American (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2000).

This immigration has translated into large and growing "ethnic" markets in the U.S., which have attracted a great deal of attention from both the popular business press (see e.g., Bredemeier 1999; Reguly 1997; Shields 1996) and the academic marketing literature (see e.g., D’Rozario 2001 a,b,c,d; D’Rozario and Choudhury 2000, 2001; D’Rozario and Douglas 1999).

However, while all this attention has been paid to "ethnic" consumers in both the popular business and academic press, not much attention has been paid to the question as to whether and to what extent immigrants have had an effect on the consumption practices of native-born consumers? This is the issue we investigate in this paper.


Given that late 20th century immigration to the U.S. has been disproportionately from Africa, Asia and Latin-America rather than Europe, the immigrant practices that are now being adopted by the native-born (hereinafter referred to as the "mainstream") are vastly different from what they adopted from immigrants in earlier time periods (Mandel 1992). Key among these new practices being adopted are the use of hot spices, such as black and red pepper, rose petals, mustard and ginger (Food Formulating 1996, Saldana 1998, Dutt 1999); sauces, such as Sofrito and Recaito (Food Formulating 1996, Kotkin 1987, McCoy 1987); dips, such as JalapeĀ±o bean (McCoy 1987); appetizers, such as Dim-Sum (Citrano 1997) and Kebabs (Suri 2000); ethnic snacks, such as corn chips (Kotkin 1987); new staple foods, such as black and kidney beans (McCoy 1987) and tortillas (Kotkin 1987); condiments, such as coconut milk, sesame oil, rice wine vinegars and adobo (McCoy 1987; Food Formulating 1996); new types of fruits and vegetables, such as bok choi, cactus leaves, cayhoe, diakon, gobo root, jicama, tomatillos and chirmoya, (Rodebaugh 2000); ethnic recipes, such as Vindaloos, Jalfrezi, Dhansak and Korma (Deccan Chronicle 1999); prepared foods, such as Palak Paneer (Schoenberger 1998) and Balti curry (Dutt 1999) and ethnic brand lines, such as Goya, Casera (McCoy 1987), House of Tsang, Chi-Chi’s, Peloponnese and Patak’s (Schoenberger 1998), among others.


The most potent factor to cause immigrant food practices to be adopted by the mainstream is the number of interactions (i.e., "depth" of penetration) between individuals from the immigrant community and those from the mainstream community (Food Formulating 1996). This "depth" of penetration is in turn dependent on two other factors. First, the greater the percentage of the mainstream that is comprised of the immigrant community, the greater this depth of penetration is. Second, the greater the geographic spread of the immigrant community within the mainstream, the greater this depth of penetration is. In other words, if the immigrants are scattered throughout the community, as more recent immigrants to the U.S. have been (Herbers 1986), then the more likely their practices will be absorbed by the mainstream. On the other hand, if the immigrant community is clustered into ethnic enclaves, as was true of many late 19th and early 20th century immigrants to the U.S. (C. Hirschman 1983), then the less likely their practices will be absorbed by the mainstream.

A second significant factor that causes adoption by mainstream consumers of immigrant food practices, is the degree to which mainstream consumers are open-minded and eager to learn about food from other, less-well-known cultural-origins.

A third significant factor that causes adoption by mainstream consumers of immigrant food practices, is the degree to which mainstream consumers are willing to experiment with and as a result accept food from other, less-well-known cultural-origins.

Lately (Saldana 1998; Schoenberger 1998; Citrano 1997), there has been a much greater degree of both, experimentation with and adoption of immigrants’ foods by mainstream consumers, in comparison with the greater resistance towards immigrants’ foods that mainstream consumers have displayed in the past (Atlas Media Corporation 1999).

The acceptance by mainstream consumers of foods from other cultures also depends on other factors which include, but are not limited to the following: the need for variety by mainstream consumers in their food choices (Saldana 1998, Schoenberge 1998), mainstream consumers’ need to spice up traditional bland foods (Saldana 1998), more foreign travel by mainstream consumers (Saldana 1998), the availability of ethnic foods in mainstream stores (Dutt 1999), increasing shelf-space devoted to ethnic foods by mainstream stores (Food Formulating 1996), the advertising of ethnic foods to mainstream consumers (Schoenberger 1998) and the increasing availability for purchase of ethnic foods on the Internet (see e.., 2001; Ethnic 2001; 2001).


D’Rozario, Denver (2001a), "Changing Tastes & Preferences in Food of the Native-born Consumer", Working Paper, Department of Marketing, School of Business, Howard University, Washington, D.C. 20059.

(A more complete set of references is available from the author upon request).