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Richard Webber

Minorities march on middle England

20th March 2017 • Opinions

In an increasingly diversified United Kingdom, it’s time that marketers got to grips with minority groups’ data to unlock a new world of opportunity.


Professor Richard Webber


In an age drowning in data, it surprised many to hear HM Government complaining about the absence of information, in this case on the 12% of UK consumers belonging to minority groups. Quoting Louise Casey, tasked by the government with publishing a review of opportunities and integration, “in many cases [my] report acknowledges that the available data are already feeling out of date, for example where we rely on the Census…the most recent results [of which are] coming from 2011. In others, data are not available at a sufficiently granular level to pick out trends that might exist or be emerging in smaller or newer groups in society. In general, better data and research are needed across a range of issues relating to integration”.

Is the commercial sector doing any better?

To address this information deficiency, Trevor Phillips and I examined changes between 2011 and 2016 in the size of minority populations in each of the UK’s million residential postcodes (eg N6 6DJ). We concluded that Britain’s minority populations are on the march from inner city neighbourhoods towards middle England. In the last five years it is medium-sized towns in the South-East and East of England where their numbers have grown the fastest. During these five years Watford, Slough, Peterborough, Luton, Boston and Corby have all seen a six per cent or more increase in the share of their overall population with non-white names.

Marketers who thought about it mostly assumed that once minorities became settled, their consumer habits would converge with the host population’s. Not so, or much more slowly than observers had expected. It is still at Chinese New Year that the Chinese community spends most freely. Hindu Indians, whatever their income, still confer with their extended families before making major items of expenditure. Whilst a South Asian leisure outing involves a large party, a Japanese person happily shops or goes to the theatre alone.

Half of shoppers at my local Tesco are from minority ethnic groups. Yet world foods claim just 2% of its floor space. Clearly it’s not just from these aisles that minorities buy groceries. But that doesn’t mean that they choose product categories or brands in the same proportions as white British consumers. Few retailers and manufacturers yet know what these differences are.

There was a time when new arrivals clustered in neighbourhoods where they could speak their own language and buy their preferred foods from shops owned by members of their community. Since 2011 virtually all minorities have experienced a huge exodus to outer London suburbs and it is towns like Watford and Luton which have experienced highest growth.

From analysing consumer names it’s evident that once in these new locations minorities are far more likely to shop at multiple retailers. Many fewer are within walking distance of ethnic-owned convenience stores. So how will off-licences and pubs in Oxford adapt to the arrival of Muslim populations? Can yams and plantains now be bought in Bexley’s supermarkets? Do pharmacists in Milton Keynes stock beauty products its West Indian population wants to buy and have their technology retailers adapted to the rise in South Asian numbers? No doubt there are travel agents in Erith who can fly Nigerians to Lagos or CTNs in Corby that sell Lithuanians international phone cards. But does a car dealer in Harlow understand how this march on Middle England affects demand for the marques it distributes, or a department store in Peterborough the colours and styles which excite its fast-growing Polish population?

No doubt many will eventually catch up with these changes in demand – but like Louise Casey we believe that ethnic change data can help those who want to get ahead of the curve.

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