Supermarkets have yet to fully embrace the opportunity of Spanish-language movies.
Spanish-speaking consumers are now about 10% of the total United States and growing fast, especially in areas other than the five states most heavily populated by Hispanics: California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois.
Studios are responding by bringing most major releases out in a Spanish subtitled version. So far, supermarkets have not responded in a big way, but those that have are benefiting from the extra rental and sell-through movement.
For example, after success with Spanish titles in one store, Mega Marts, Oak Creek, Wis., expanded the program to a second, said Bob Glisch, vice president, operations. "We had a good representation of Spanish-speaking people there, so we decided to give it a try," he said.
"It is still an untapped market for us," said Matthew Feinstein, vice president, Marbles Entertainment, Los Angeles, which operates leased-space video departments in eight Vons and 12 Lucky supermarkets. "We've just begun, but I feel that we still have a lot more to do with it."
Most supermarkets, though, are trailing other classes of trade in bringing in Spanish-language versions of videos, said Dan Malaguilla, general manager, Spanish division, Entertainment Distributing, Houston. "If you were to compare the growth of Spanish in supermarkets and the growth in specialty stores, especially the large chains, supermarkets have lagged behind. The specialty stores have been quicker on the uptake," he said.
But if supermarkets are not paying attention, the studios certainly are. "In the last two to three years, we have seen the studios -- major and minor -- realize that the Spanish-language market is definitely there, and it is much larger than anyone had envisioned. It has become more prominent in terms of buying power and in terms of voicing its preferences," said Malaguilla.
"Now many studios that did not produce Spanish versions of their films are now doing so because there are incremental sales to be had," he said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 29 million Hispanics today, representing 10% of the population. this will grow to 30 million, or 11%, by 2000 and 40 million, or 13%, by 2010. The buying power of this segment is estimated at $300 billion.
The term "Hispanic" was coined by the government to help define U.S. citizens and residents with ancestry in Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Central and South America. It has been accepted by many of those people, although the term "Latino" is also used almost interchangeably by many.
While there are varying degrees of assimilation, Hispanics have a strong preference for the Spanish language. According to the Hispanic Market web site, 89% of all Hispanics speak Spanish at home and 40% of Hispanic adults are unacculturated. While 98% watch television, 70% watch Spanish television.
A report by the Strategy Research Corp., Miami, said television "is the medium of choice for Hispanics, regardless of the language they learn first." Among Hispanics who say they put speaking Spanish first before English, they watch five times as much Spanish-language TV as they do English programming.
This means opportunity for supermarket video operations with enough Hispanic customers to justify an investment in Spanish-language inventory.
"It seems like there are a lot of Spanish-speaking customers anywhere in the country," said Clifford Feiock, video coordinator, Nash Finch Co., Minneapolis. "With the migrant worker population from North Dakota to Kansas, there are spot markets everywhere. So it is an area of opportunity. It's just that we haven't found the right way to merchandise that product yet so that those customers will be aware of it," he said.
Nash Finch has tried it with a few titles, but not enough to make a marketing impact, he said. "But it seems that more and more titles are available day and date with the English release. That has been a problem in the past. The Spanish versions didn't come out for four to six weeks after the English version," said Feiock.
But Dennis Maxwell, director of video at Reasor's, Tahlequah, Okla., said he has tried the Spanish versions and there is not sufficient demand for them. "We have some interest in at least one store, but we haven't been real successful with it. We have found that Spanish-speaking customers are mostly looking for mainstream titles."