For additional details, please see: Demand growing for Hispanic produce in heartland
KANSAS CITY, MO. — When one of its stores began showing problems with declining traffic, officials with Cosentino’s Food Store Co. found a solution by researching the area’s demographics.
About 20,000 Hispanics live within a 3-mile radius of the store, which is a few blocks northeast of the heart of downtown on Kansas City’s Independence Avenue. That’s an enormous demographic shift since the family patriarch opened the chain’s first grocery store about 65 years ago, and an enormous opportunity for the 25-store chain, said John Cosentino, vice president.
From 1980 to 2010, the Hispanic population of Kansas City, Mo., grew more than 200%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The estimated 46,000 Hispanic residents today account for about 10% of the city’s population. Across the river in Kansas City, Kan., Hispanics account for almost 28% of the population.
The numbers added up to a no-brainer opportunity, company officials said.
In August Cosentino’s added Mi Mercado to its existing mix of four retail banners, said produce director Tracy Nelson. The banners, already well known on both sides of the state line, are Cosentino’s Market, Price Chopper, Apple Market and Sun Fresh.
Nelson said the former Apple Market grocery store on Independence Avenue was closed for less than a month for its transformation. Staff renovated, redecorated and reopened the store in August as Mi Mercado — My Market. It is now formatted as a modern Hispanic grocery retailer and has seen traffic increase in its first month, Nelson said.
“You won’t see anything but roma tomatoes there,” Nelson said. “Hispanic cuisine doesn’t use other varieties so we don’t stock them at Mi Mercado. That gives us more room for other fruits and vegetables that are traditionally used in Hispanic cooking.”
Some of the commodities claiming that shelf space include chayote squash, spiny chayote, jicama, yucca root and cactus pears. Mi Mercado also stocks a wider variety of bananas than many mainstream stores. In September the banana display included plantano macho, banana manzano and banana burrow varieties.
As with many mainstream grocery stores, the produce department is the first department shoppers encounter when they walk into Mi Mercado. But differences are immediately apparent. Only four varieties of apples were stocked in early September, a direct reflection to the cultural buying habits of Hispanic shoppers, said Nelson.
“We won’t be using display space at Mi Mercado for some of the higher-end apples because they aren’t popular with the community there,” Nelson said.
Cases for fresh-cut fruits and vegetables claim some of Mi Mercado’s produce department’s space, but even some of those have a Hispanic twist. Fresh-cut “Mexican soup kits” include chopped and peeled vegetables found in traditional recipes. Nelson said all of the fresh-cut produce is prepared in-house.
“There’s no 20-foot salad spread at this store, though,” Nelson said, again citing traditional Hispanic recipes and eating habits as the driving force behind the assortment selected for Mi Mercado’s produce aisle.
Instead, Mi Mercado has an in-store taqueria for shoppers who want fresh, ready-to-eat foods.