DALLAS (FNS) -- Fresh produce and most service departments are being repositioned at Carnival Food Stores in an effort to keep up with the quickly changing demographics of the heavily ethnic Dallas-Fort Worth market.
Carnival, the ethnic banner operating under Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas, has been adjusting its floor plans to bring produce up front and center in each unit's shopping patterns. In addition to changes in the footprint, the 20-unit chain has deepened its specialty and herb selections and bolstered its bountiful merchandising format. These moves have been made expressly for the largely Hispanic shopper base attracted to Carnival stores.
"We are different here, more than in an Anglo store," said James Cook, vice president. "We have to really dig and find out what each unit's customer base is. We have to know what our customers are looking to buy. Produce is a starting place and the most important in the operation."
Cook estimates that the produce department's total-store percentage ranges between 12% and 19%, depending upon the unit and its location.
"Hispanics cook so much," said one Carnival unit manager. "If there isn't quality produce offered, they'll walk right out the door. They won't shop your store. Fresh, appealing produce is paramount."
The chain hangs its claim to differentiation on its ability to carry not only appealing product, but also the exact items desired by the various nationalities in the area's Hispanic customer base. Using no set chainwide schematic, unit management is given the flexibility to cater to its shoppers. Managers are given full authority to alter product mix to reflect their shoppers' needs. According to officials, store-level execution of merchandising takes into account the understanding that there is no successful broad-brush approach to Hispanic marketing, since Hispanics do not all seek the same items; customers who are Texas-born or raised abroad shop for completely different items, they said.
Having the right product mix is paramount in keeping Hispanic shoppers coming back for more. For example, Jojocete, a fruit grown only in Central America, is not a big seller in units where the customer base is primarily Mexican. In Carnival stores where customers' heritage is rooted in Central America, the fruit is not only offered in jar form, but also in fresh guises in the produce department.
Specialty items initially appeared in Carnival's produce set two years ago. Since then the product offerings have grown. Peppers in particular are spotlighted in the refrigerated multideck merchandisers. Thai, Caribe, Fresno, Manzano, Anaheim, cherry and Chilacu are just a few of the flavors offered. Rounding out the offerings are quince, cactus and banana leaves. Fresh herbs and packaged salads are also presented in the specialty section.
All this emphasis on produce within Carnival units is rooted in the style of cooking the various Hispanic cultures dish up -- whether Mexican, Costa Rican, Guatemalan, Salvadoran or Tex-Mex, said Cook.
In keeping with the fresh abundance Hispanic shoppers seek, Carnival presents most dry produce in bins set on the selling floor. Watermelons, pink lady apples, Mexican papayas, green tunas, tomatoes, oranges and pineapples are just a few of the items SN observed on a recent tour.
Customer service is also deepening in the various departments at Carnival. "Our stores are going to more service," said Cook. The operator offers order-carryout service and utility bill-paying windows. However, the biggest shift has been the recent addition of service meat and seafood cases.
"Our customers like their product fresh," said Cook. "They still do a lot of scratch cooking. They have large families and they like to be as economical as they can. They look for thin cuts and family-oriented sizes. And it has to be fresh. Whether tongue or tripe, it has to be fresh, not frozen."
Service in the meat and seafood categories further caters to the customers' desire to pick and choose exact quantities of selections. Oftentimes they seek only a piece or two of meat for a particular dish. They don't need a full prepackaged family pack, said Cook.
In addition to popular bulk Chorizo, preseasoned Buffalo wings and the ingredient cheese Crema Poblana, there are specialty cuts like ox tail, tablita and Costillade (short ribs). Traditional beef tripe, fajita and thin-cut steak items are offered along with a full complement of pork cuts, including pig's feet.
Other fresh categories that experience brisk sales are cheese and sausages, in particular the Chorizo style.
"We offer variety, but we also offer value pricing," said Cook, adding that the chain further entices shoppers with giveaways and special promotions.
Carnival's service bakery and service deli also offer Hispanic shoppers the flavors they have grown up with. Bakeries are installed in six stores; and five units offer prepared foods "every bit as good as any Mexican restaurant," said Cook. "Our lunch business is really growing these days."
In addition to special-ordered decorated cakes and American goods, the bakeries at Carnival present Hispanic favorites like Semita de Anise and Pan de Huevo, along with Mexican pastries. The chain's Tortilleria produces tortillas in-store, not only for Carnival shoppers, but also for many restaurants in the area.