Why do American grocery stores always have an ethnic aisle?
Cuong Pham, Founder and Managing Director of Red boat, a Bay Area company, wants its customers to use its fish sauce for pasta and salad dressings, not just in East Asian dishes. But because it’s typically placed on the ethnic aisle, he said, it limits perceptions of the ingredient’s uses.
Mr Pham said the aisle appears to exist more for those looking to find ingredients new to themselves than for the communities whose cuisines are represented there.
This fits with the original purpose of the Ethnic Alley: to serve returning soldiers from WWII who had tasted food from countries like Italy, Germany and Japan abroad. But while many European foods eventually migrated out of the section, most foods from other regions remained. (Conversely, some grocery stores in countries like France and Colombia have The “American” alleys, with products like peanut butter, mayonnaise, canned cake mix and barbecue sauce.)
Errol Schweizer, who was vice president of the grocery store at Whole Foods Market from 2009 to 2016, said the ethnic aisle is part of a “legacy of white supremacy and colonialism” built as part of the grocery store – starting with the low wages paid to hourly workers, who are often people of color; and the lack of diversity among in-store shoppers.
He said he and other employees spoke frequently about eliminating the ethnic aisle at Whole Foods; but they couldn’t persuade the company to make such a major overhaul.
That didn’t stop them from making sure every aisle – not just the ethnic aisle – included various flavors and ingredients, he added, or from improving the section, known as the “aisle. world flavors “, by increasing the variety of countries represented and finding more suppliers of color.
A spokesperson for Whole Foods said, “The same brand may have some products bundled together for meal prep in our global flavor aisles and other products with savory snacks, cookies or in our specialty department,” and added that the goals of the strategy are to “provide customers with ideas for using the product and make it easy to find.” “