Want to find restaurants straight from Asia in Toronto?
Not a problem!
Food chains from various Asian countries are taking over Toronto’s food industry despite huge competition.
BY: TIFFANY FUNG
It’s always difficult thinking of where to eat. At times like this, you go onto the internet and search for a good restaurant, then you see numerous Asian restaurants as recommendations – sushi from Japan, hotpot from China, barbeque from Korea, and more. It’s no secret that Toronto has become a hub for different types of Asian food in the past few years.
Back in the 1990s or early 2000s, it wasn’t common to see that many Asian restaurant chains in Toronto. In fact, most Asian restaurants were just local businesses operated by Asian Canadians. So this is the question: when and why Asian restaurant chains began to enter the Toronto food market?
"Food may be the most culturally-bound consumer item."
Toronto is known for being multicultural. Zhenfeng Ma, a marketing associate professor from Wilfrid Laurier University, says the rising immigration rate contributes to the city’s cultural diversity. Because of that, demand for ethnically diverse foods is continuously increasing. “Food may be the most culturally-bound consumer item,” Ma states.
But the demand isn’t just coming from immigrant communities. As Canada actively promotes multiculturalism, people from different cultural backgrounds interact greatly with each other, Ma points out. These interracial friendships lead non-Asians to be more exposed to Asian foods. Compared to older generations like the baby boomers, Ma says millennials are the ones who started being open-minded about interracial friendships.
Meet Fresh is a very well-known dessert shop in Taiwan. Alice Chu, managing partner and owner of Meet Fresh Canada East, thinks Toronto is a great haven of development for all businesses including food.
Besides being multicultural, Canadians are used to consuming goods from other countries. According to Martine Spence, a marketing and entrepreneurship professor at the University of Ottawa, there are many things that cannot be produced in Canada due to reasons such as weather and price of labour. “Canada is a very open economy,” Spence states.
Spence emphasizes that currently, there is “a trend for consumers to get back to their roots.” This relates to both local and Asian businesses. In this globalized world, customers are more attracted to products that they share personal relationships with. As more Asians are immigrating to Toronto, it is normal to see the high demand for Asian food products.
When the Filipino fast food chain, Jollibee, opened up in Toronto earlier this year, it made big headlines all over the city. But Jollibee isn’t the only Asian restaurant chain that is receiving attention.
Originally from Tokyo, Japan, Konjiki Ramen opened their first shop in Toronto in late 2017, in North York. Alan Posner, an investor at Konjiki Ramen, says it was a good opportunity for the restaurant’s founder and head chef, Atsushi Yamamoto, to explore a different country, namely a multicultural one. “He (Yamamoto) wants to share his recipes with more countries,” Posner says.
Meet Fresh is a Taiwanese dessert store that has over 750 stores worldwide. Their healthy traditional desserts such as herbal jelly and purple rice porridge are well-known in Asia. They opened their first Toronto location in January this year, located in North York. The second location had its grand opening in Waterloo on Nov. 9. There will be two more shops coming by the end of this year, in Markham and Mississauga.
Chu saw a lack of healthy desserts in Toronto, “There is a lot of potential here and the Canadian market is very open to new things.” She points out Meet Fresh is a good introduction to Taiwanese food in this multicultural city. “This was a great opportunity to come in and bring in such a recognized brand.”
Konjiki Ramen and Meet Fresh are both big businesses in Asia. Spence says big businesses usually have huge resources so they don’t need to focus on a specific target market.
However, Spence highlights that if these Asian food chains wish to target non-Asians, their products will have to be trendy in order to stay “relevant” and bring “excitement.” If the chains are able to do so, that means “they have a deep understanding of the diversity of the Canadian population.”
"There is a lot of potential here and the Canadian market is very open to new things."
Posner says Konjiki Ramen is planning to expand their target market to non-Asians by ensuring all ingredients are best in quality and opening another location in the center of Toronto at Yonge Street and Dundas Street.
Meet Fresh is also opening more locations in 2019, two in Montreal, one in Ottawa and one in downtown Toronto. “We are definitely trying to tap into the mainstream market to foreigners,” says Chu.
It is safe to predict that more and more Asian food chains will be appearing. There is a concern with these Asian food chains entering the Toronto market though. “It’s an easy mistake to make if you want to expand too quickly beyond your financial capacity,” Ma says. It’s important to keep the business’s growing process steady to avoid this mistake.
Photo courtesy: Krista Stucchio (unsplash), Sharon Ang (pixabay), Quang Anh Ha Nguyen (pexels), Jose Antonio Gallego Vazquez (unsplash), Lior Shapira (unsplash).