U.S. ethnic food retail sales over the next five years are expected to rise at nearly double the pace of the previous five years as Asian, Hispanic and Indian populations grow, according to researcher Mintel International Group.

Sales of ethnic foods, including fresh produce, will reach $2.71 billion in 2015, an inflation-adjusted 10% increase over $2.46 billion during 2010, according to a Mintel forecast released in mid-January. The figures exclude Wal-Mart stores.

More than 1 million foreign-born people become permanent residents in the U.S. every year, with Mexico accounting for the greatest number of immigrants, Mintel said in the report, citing Census Bureau data. Rising ethnic food consumption also reflects increased cooking at home and growing interest in international foods, Mintel said.

“The expanding ethnic population is influencing the American palate and piquing ‘mainstream’ Americans’ interest in new cuisines,” according to the report. “Americans are being exposed to international foods when they dine at restaurants, and many are recreating ethnic dishes at home.”

Mintel’s report was based partly on research by Symphony/IRI Group.

Among fresh fruits and vegetables, okra, mangoes and Mexican papayas are increasingly popular items for ethnic markets, said Steve Chmelovsky, who runs EveryDay Fresh Produce, Inc., at the Chicago International Produce Market. His company is a wholesale distributor of fruits and vegetables for ethnic markets.

EveryDay’s okra sales have increased about 18% annually in recent years, while papaya sales have surged by triple digits, Chmelovsky said. Last year, EveryDay’s overall sales rose 15%.

Much of that growth stems from independent grocers who serve ethnic markets, he said. More recently, larger, branded chains, such as Jewel and Dominick’s, are ramping up ethnic offerings.

“We’ve opened up avenues where we’re getting into chain stores,” Chmelovsky said. “The growth is tremendous.”

Asian and Indian markets are driving much of the growth ethnic foods, Mintel said. In 2010, Asian food sales reached $700 million, up 5.1% from 2009, while Indian sales were $41 million, also up 5.1%.

The Mexican/Hispanic category accounted for the bulk of ethnic food sales in 2010 at $1.52 billion, or 62% of total sales, according to Mintel.

Ethnic markets still represent a fraction of the nation’s total food sales. In 2010, U.S. grocery store sales totaled $525.5 billion, up 2.3% from 2009, according to Census Bureau data.