PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Supermarket operators must meet the needs and demands of the growing Hispanic segment or those consumers will take their business elsewhere, an Albertsons executive told members of the Mexican American Grocers Association here.
According to Andrew Kramer, corporate director of ethnic marketing and specialty foods for the Boise, Idaho-based company, "All supermarkets must develop the best Hispanic marketing program possible if they hope to grow their market share. And any operator that hasn't already begun to offer creative Hispanic programs is going to be left out because the train has already left the station."
The days of "one-size-fits-all" or "take-it-or-leave-it" marketing are over, Kramer said. "We must all be alert to and obsessed with serving the needs of the Hispanic consumer. We can no longer rest content that Hispanic consumers are 100% satisfied with the status quo and will remain our customers -- not even the independent grocers who have been serving that segment for many years when no one else was paying attention.
"Because today Hispanics have the economic power to attract notice, and if we don't meet their demands, then someone else will."
Kramer made his remarks during MAGA's 19th annual National Hispanic Marketing, Sales and Promotions Conference and International Expo.
He said bodegas kept the Hispanic culture alive in the grocery business for many years, "and MAGA represents the second stage of Hispanic retailing because its members gave Hispanic consumers the feeling they could be at home in your stores."
But with the Hispanic population at 37 million today and expected to grow by an additional 25% by 2010, "It's important to reach the minds, and eventually the hearts, of Hispanic consumers -- not only by telling them what you have to offer but also by listening to what they have to say about their needs and what they expect. Because our business is customer-driven, and Hispanics are very loyal customers."
Traditional supermarkets have not always been driven by customers' needs, Kramer acknowledged. "But with the recent 'discovery' of Hispanic economic power, we're seeing more traditional supermarkets pursuing strategies to appeal to Hispanic consumers, and in a few years, we'll look back to 2002 and 2003 as the good old days."
According to Kramer, Albertsons has pursued a neighborhood marketing program for years in an effort to cater to the needs of individual communities. "And although Albertsons is dedicated to neighborhood markets, there are 17 million Hispanics in our trade areas, and there's a very strong incentive for us to reach that market," Kramer said.
Within the last six months it has converted three locations in Hispanic pockets of Southern California to a new banner -- Super Savers, encompassing two stores in Los Angeles and one in Santa Ana, in Orange County, Kramer said, "and so far, we're encouraged by the model, and sales are higher [under the new banner] than they were when the stores operated as Albertsons."
He said the company is evaluating whether to expand the Super Saver concept to other parts of California or other parts of the United States.
A commitment to the Hispanic population involves more than just providing the assortment and services they need, Kramer added. "If you serve the Hispanic community, you must be part of that community by being actively involved politically and socially, and that must be evident in all parts of the store.
"You must establish your store as an active citizen within the community."
In other MAGA conference presentations:
Justo Frias, president and chief executive officer of Gigante USA, Santa Ana, Calif., said the Mexico-based company will open four new stores this year to double its Southern California presence to eight locations.
Luis de la Mata, corporate vice president and president of the Southern California division of Unified Western Grocers, Los Angeles-based member-owned cooperative, said independent retailers in Southern California are in "an excellent position" to meet the competitive threat posed by the entry of Wal-Mart Supercenters into the market in the next few years "because of their operational flexibility, their intimacy with customers and their ability to target specific consumer segments."
Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles -- and director of UCLA's Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture -- said the growing Hispanic population will define what it means to be an American in the next 20 years as it becomes the majority population in California. "Two-thirds of all students in Southern California today are Latino," he said, "and for every Hispanic who dies, 10 Hispanics are born."