MIAMI -- As the supermarket of the future takes on a decidedly more ethnic flavor, mainstream retailers would do well to emulate what independent grocers are doing to attract and retain Hispanic and Asian shoppers, consultant Thomas Tseng told an audience at a trade show here.
Strategies to follow imitate those of chains that are true ethnic markets, like the California-based examples Tseng offered -- El Gigante and 99 Ranch. If a retailer wants to cater to these shoppers on a more limited basis, he said, it could offer ethnic groceries like salsa or rice in one aisle.
Tseng is director of marketing at Cultural Access Group, a market research firm in Los Angeles. He presented his findings at the "IV Americas Food & Beverage" show and conference here recently.
"They have to determine who they want to go after," Tseng said. Retailers who don't want to risk losing American-born, English-speaking customers may decide to offer ethnic foods on a limited basis, or they may decide to make a wholehearted pitch for the new demographic.
Many retailers are realizing that, with the demographic changes of the past 10 years, their Anglo or existing customer base is shrinking. Niche today, mainstream tomorrow, could be the motto, he said.
Far from being resentful of Tseng's advice, Thomas Zaucha, president of the National Grocers Association, Arlington, Va. -- who was not at the conference but spoke to SN in its wake -- said the whole specialty foods arena, which includes ethnic foods, "is very, very high priority for NGA and its membership."
At the NGA's convention in Las Vegas, scheduled from Feb. 11 to 14, one area will be dedicated to ethnic merchandising, Zaucha said, featuring some of the best practices of independent retailers around the United States.
"People at the top are those with the strategic view to target these new consumers. Reaching out to customers has to be a priority at all levels of the organization," Tseng told SN.
"Once that commitment has been made, there has to be an understanding. Do some Hispanic consumers make their own salsa? This may be true if they are still acculturating; their palate remains Hispanic. But once they get into careers, they will behave more like Americans and want everything ready-made," he said.
Supermarket personnel must make an effort to understand not only the culture, but also who their customers are. Products they prefer will differ, depending upon how acculturated they are, Tseng said. For decades, Hispanics in the Los Angeles area came primarily from Mexico but now there are more immigrants from Central America, Tseng noted.
After they have identified who their customers are, management can set aside a number of stores that fit that profile. Those units should share a customized strategy to reach those consumers.
"You may need a new product selection, or need to create a store atmosphere, perhaps using bilingual signage, or a new staffing strategy, making sure employees are bilingual," he said.
Another way to make consumers aware that a store is friendly to them is to advertise in the ethnic press, in-language, while keeping signage in-store in English, if that is what the retailer prefers.