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Thriving Asian Supermarkets Profit By America's Changing Tastes

Asian food markets in the U.S. are thriving, as they serve a growing number of diverse customers. This report is narrated by Crystal Park.

Dong Jung, a college student from Korea, shops at Lotte Plaza, an Asian supermarket, in Baltimore, Maryland. "I came here [to the U.S.] five years ago. I miss a lot of Korean food and Asian food every day.

Han Kim has been in the U.S. more than 30 years.

"I still miss a lot of Korean food. I really like it. When I came here first time in 1968, the price was really expensive and [there were] not many [Asian] stores. Nowadays [it is] really cheap and [there are] a lot of competitive stores we really like."

Rhee Bros. Incorporated is an Asian food wholesaler and distributor based in Columbia, Maryland. Syng Man Rhee, a Korean immigrant, is the company founder.

"I started in 1976 as a small wholesaler in Silver Spring, Maryland. After that I moved to this warehouse, now this main warehouse is 165,000 square feet [more than 18,000 square meters, another extra three warehouses around here, all together maybe 350,000 square feet [almost 40,000 square meters]."

Rhee Bros. has nine retail stores, called Assi or Lotte Plaza, and it also distributes to 1,500 supermarkets across the U.S. Many of its 10,000 items are imported but it has its own brands too. This year Rhee Bros. expects $500 million in revenue.

But the competition is fierce. Just in the Washington suburban area there are several chain stores such as Super H Mart, Han Ah Reum, Grand Mart, Global Market and Lotte.

There's been a demographic sea change. The Asian and Pacific Islanders population in the U.S. increased from 3.7 million in 1980 to 13 million in 2004 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The grocery chains cater to South Asians, such as customers from India and Pakistan.

"There are a variety of fresh vegetables, which I can't get anywhere else. And the assorted ethnic food that I can find here,” said one customer.

"Most of seafood we buy from here. We cannot find them in American stores. Some grocery like Eastern food, we buy from here,” said another.

The general American public is also exploring new tastes. "They have a big selection. Things I don't know about, said one woman. “So I am going to learn about them because it's healthy and tastes good."

Even mainstream supermarket chains dedicate more shelf space to ethnic foods.

Barry Scher is vice president of public affairs for Giant Foods Incorporated. "The growth of ethnic foods in our stores has been phenomenal. Even five years ago we had nowhere near the wide variety of products we are selling in our stores today," said Mr. Scher.

The market for Asian food is expected to continue to grow in the United States, as Asian-Americans spend their own dollars on the food they like, and change the palates of their fellow Americans.