CHICAGO — Sales of ethnic foods have steadily increased since 2004, and are poised to reach a record high of $2.2 billion in 2009, according to a new Mintel study. The company, which is a leading global supplier of consumer, product and media intelligence, also forecasts solid growth of almost 20% from 2010 to 2014.

Mexican/Hispanic foods represent the largest segment of the ethnic foods market with nearly two-thirds (62%) of sales. However, the Asian and Indian food segments are driving the market's growth, with 11% and 35% growth, respectively, from 2006-08.

"Since 2005, there are over 1 million foreigners becoming legal permanent residents in the US each year," said David Browne, Mintel senior analyst. "This escalating group is influencing the American palate and piquing Americans' interest in new cuisines."

Income is one of the strongest predictors of ethnic food cooking, according to Mintel. Ninety-two percent of respondents with household incomes of more than $150,000 have cooked ethnic food in the past month. Young adults are also among the most adventurous when it comes to global cuisines. Some 91% of respondents aged 18-24 have cooked ethnic food in the same timeframe.

A resurgence in cooking and product innovation is helping to drive sales, in addition to the growing diverse population. The economic downturn has fueled the growing popularity of cooking shows. Other factors contributing to this growth are an increase in international travel — and more Americans classifying themselves as 'cooking enthusiasts' who are having fun with cooking and experimenting with new flavors and foods.

"Food manufacturers are answering the call of these new cooking enthusiasts by providing home cooks with ethnic sauces and seasonings to add with their own meat and vegetables or taking it a step further with meal solutions and pre-made meal kits," Mr. Browne said.

One surprising fact is two-thirds of respondents said they prefer to cook their ethnic meals 'from scratch'; the remaining one-third is opting for more convenient meal solutions or heat-and-serve meals.