How to attract 35 million Hispanic consumers

08/15/2002 12:00:00 AM
Elizabeth Ashby

(Aug. 15) By now you might have noticed the increasing number of Hispanic consumers shopping your stores. From 1990 to 2000, the Hispanic population in the U.S. grew by 58%, to 35.3 million. That number is expected to increase to 55.1 million by 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Some retailers have recognized this growth and have altered their corporate strategies to focus on Hispanics. Nash Finch Co., Edina, Minn., opened its first Avanza supermarket in Denver in late spring. The store is designed for Hispanic consumers, and the company has plans to open more Avanza stores across the Midwest.Albertson’s Inc., Boise, Idaho, which already has a Hispanic “plaza” format store in Orlando, Fla., is considering a Hispanic format store in Chicago, where it owns the city’s largest grocery chain, Jewel-Osco.

While creating an entire store for Hispanic consumers might not be in your budget, there are steps you can take to reap the benefits from this segment of the population.

HERE’S WHY

In November and December, the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, D.C., conducted a survey of Hispanic shoppers and supermarkets in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and earlier this year the organization published “U.S. Hispanics: Insights into Grocery Shopping Preferences and Attitudes 2002.” In the study, FMI found that 97% of Hispanics ranked high quality fruits and vegetables as the No. 1 reason they chose a grocery store.

The study also revealed that Hispanic purchasing power grew 160% between 1990 and 2001, from $208 billion to $542 billion, and that in 2000 Hispanic households spent $33.1 billion on food for use at home. Hispanic shoppers also spend $117 per week on groceries, compared to the $87 per week spent by all U.S. grocery shoppers.
“Perishables are so important because (Hispanics) believe that meals made from scratch are more nutritious than prepared meals,” says Michelle Del Toro Jaketic, research manager at FMI. “It all goes back to the Hispanic culture.”

According to the Hispanic Food Distributors Association, Chicago, Hispanic households cook dinner at home 5.6 times per week, which is more than Anglo households cook. Allen Lydick, consultant with Mexigrocers.com, Raleigh, N.C., says Hispanics eat out only 1.2 times per week on average, they spend 25% more on food to eat at home than Anglos, and they make 67% of their meals from scratch.

Jim Atkinson, produce manager and international buyer for the single Buy for Less store in Oklahoma City, says the company has identified Hispanics as a prime target group.

“The Hispanic consumer is the most profitable consumer you can have in your stores because they hit your perishables so hard. They buy all kinds of different produce, and price is not a factor. When Chilean peaches are in season at $1.99 a pound, if they want 10 pounds, they buy it.”

MERCHANDISING TECHNIQUES

It takes more than just chili peppers to attract the largest minority group in the U.S.

At Buy for Less, piñatas decorate display tables and Mexican flags hang from the ceiling. Atkinson says the first Hispanic display consumers see is an endcap of Mexican papayas and an 8-foot square case of items like tomatillos, cactus leaves and chili peppers.

At Food Lion, a Salisbury, N.C.-based chain of 1,200 stores, having a variety of roots like yuca, boniato and malanga and dried and fresh chili peppers is important, says Mirna Franjul, category manager of specialty foods and a native of the Dominican Republic. She says depending on the location of the store, Hispanic sets range from 12-foot to 56-foot gondolas.

Mike Witt, director of produce and floral retail fresh merchandising for Supervalu Inc., Minneapolis, a chain of 1,200 stores, says about 12 of the company’s 80 corporate Cub Food stores have been remodeled to carry the Don Chilitos Hispanic product line distributed by St. Paul, Minn.-based wholesaler J&J Distributing. The product line includes about 60 stock-keeping units of dried vegetables, rice, beans, peppers and spices for the Hispanic consumer. At Cub’s Apple Valley, Minn., store, the products are merchandised on a peg rack and gondola about 6 feet long. The gondola is placed at the end of the produce department where all consumers must pass to move to the rest of the store.

David Brand, produce and floral field specialist for Supervalu, says the store’s first three days of having the Don Chilitos brand brought more than $500 in sales to the produce department. In front of the display, Cub also palletizes a 2,000-pound bag of pinto beans, which are sold for 44 cents per pound.

Witt says the company plans to incorporate Don Chilitos products in all of its Cub stores in all regions. Supervalu has identified about 35% of corporate and franchised stores that will have their Hispanic sections expanded. By late July, the size of the pepper display had doubled in the stores targeted as having a high potential for Hispanic consumers. The chain also has identified about 40 fresh produce items that it will key in on for Hispanics including jicama, roma tomatoes and papayas.

Besides having the right mix of produce, product must be displayed in a way that appeals to Hispanic consumers. Franjul says retailers should strive for large, bulk displays that will entice the eye and exude freshness. Lydick says Hispanic consumers want produce stacked in large displays so they can sort through it and pick out the best products. At Cub, Hispanic shoppers like items priced by the each, such as limes at 10 for $1.

It also is important to create a Hispanic-friendly atmosphere. At J&J Supermarkets Inc., Gainesville, Ga., a two-store chain, Spanish music is played over the intercom. Lydick says the store knows that the majority of its Hispanic consumers shop on Saturday afternoons, so at noon, it switches over to a Latin radio station to make the Hispanic shoppers feel more welcome. He says the stores also use colorful signs to create excitement.

IN- AND OUT-OF-STORE ADVERTISING

Before you can sell Hispanic produce, you need to let Hispanic shoppers know you carry the products they need. Franjul says communication is key to getting Hispanics through the front door.

“As long as promotions and coupons are done in Spanish, we would use them. You would get the same redemption as you would with rest of the market if they were in Spanish,” Franjul says.

FMI’s study showed that 68% of Hispanic shoppers agreed they understand advertising better in Spanish, so many retailers have begun to advertise that way.

Shaw’s Supermarkets Inc., West Bridgewater, Mass., a chain of 187 stores, circulates ads in Spanish around holidays to attract shoppers. Buy for Less runs a biweekly ad in a local Spanish newspaper year-round. Lydick says there are about 350 Hispanic newspapers across the U.S. with reasonable advertising costs. He also says radio is a big draw for Hispanic shoppers, which was one advertising avenue Cub was considering for the future.

Suppliers, too, can advertise nationally to increase Hispanic consumption of their products. The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, began a three-month Zespri Gold kiwifruit promotion in July. The campaign promotes the fruit as “Tu Pila Natural” or “your natural battery,” a slogan designed to communicate the energy and nutrition derived from kiwifruit, according to a company press release.

Oppenheimer is targeting the Chicago market with its campaign because 26% of the city’s population is Hispanic. During the promotion, the slogan is appearing in bus shelters and billboards. Thirty-second radio ads are playing on Spanish language radio stations, and the product is being featured at three major Hispanic festivals in the city, which are predicted to attract 1.5 million people. Once Hispanic consumers enter the store, Oppenheimer has Spanish point-of-sale materials and in-store demos take over.

In Buy for Less stores, daily specials are announced over the intercom in English and Spanish, and some retailers use bilingual signs at the point of sale.

While bilingual signs make Hispanic consumers feel at home, they could do more harm than good.

“In New York City, there are more Mexicans than Puerto Ricans,” says Kevin Armata, president of Windsor Marketing Group, Windsor Locks, Conn. “They are all Spanish speaking, but the dialects are drastically different One word means totally the opposite word in another (dialect).”

That’s why Armata advises retailers to use pictures rather than words to convey produce sales. He says Hispanics put together pictures of a product and a price quickly, and using pictures keeps you from alienating certain segments of the population.

“The balance of ads has shifted in response to this. Now they are 20% description, 40 % picture and 40% price, where as before they were 50% price, 20% picture and 30% description,” Armata says.

One major retail chain that Armata has been working with went on an eight-week test with the revamped ads, and after just three weeks it decided to keep the new look indefinitely.

THE DIFFERENCES WITHIN

Just as there are various dialects of Spanish, there are variations between Hispanic consumers. Groups within the Hispanic community range from Mexican to Puerto Rican to Latino and more; each group looks for slightly different produce items.

Atkinson says Mexicans, Central and South Americans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans shop at Buy for Less.

“Central and South Americans use no gas-green bananas when making tamales,” he says. “The Mexicans use corn husks and mesa to make tamales, but the Central and South Americans wrap their tamales in fresh banana leaves.”

Atkinson says that at Christmas, the store sells about 200 pounds of banana leaves a day at $1.99 per pound.

Lydick of Mexigrocers.com says that unlike popular assumptions, Puerto Ricans don’t like the spicy foods that Mexicans do.

Franjul of Food Lion says Puerto Ricans also are inclined to buy more plantains and roots, while Mexicans buy more jicama and chili peppers.

The Hispanic community can be segmented into groups based on their acculturation levels, too. FMI’s study separated Hispanics into Spanish-preferred, bilinguals and English-preferred consumers. Shopping preferences differed significantly between the three groups. One statistic showed that Spanish-preferred consumers cooked Hispanic meals 91% of the time, while English-preferred consumers cooked Hispanic meals only 45% of the time.

EMPLOYEES AND COMMITMENT

In order to successfully target Hispanics, familiarize yourself with your local Hispanic consumers.

One way to learn about Hispanic product preferences and shopping behavior is to ask ethnic employees to recommend restaurants and then bring them along to explain the dishes, according to “Grow with America: Best Practices in Ethnic Marketing and Merchandising,” published by the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council of North America. Find out how meals are prepared. When are they eaten? What are the ingredients?

Or bring prepared and packaged ethnic foods to merchandising meetings to introduce buyers, merchandisers and category managers to new items and brands. The study recommentsscoping out leading ethnic supermarkets on a regular basis.

Another option is to surf the Internet and look through cookbooks for recipes. Take note of staple ingredients that often come up: produce, condiments, herbs, meats and grocery items.

Also consider hiring Hispanic employees to help interact with Hispanic shoppers. Atkinson says Buy for Less, which is paying for him to take Spanish classes this fall, has four Hispanic produce personnel.

Suppliers can play a role in interacting with Hispanic consumers, too. According to the May 2001 “Grocery Headquarters,” published by Windsor Marketing Group, employees at Presidente Supermarkets, Miami, receive Spanish-language training from supplier International Systems & Electronics Corp., also based in Miami.

FMI’s Jaketic says that having Hispanic employees is an added bonus, but it is more important for employees to be educated about Hispanic produce items.

“Having associates there that know the products will help attract and retain Hispanic consumers,” she says.



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