CHICAGO -- The buying power of ethnic minorities is being underutilized by most supermarkets, say industry consultants.
According to Jay Rosengarten, president of Rosengarten Group, Rye, N.Y., merchandising ethnic-oriented foods "can provide a reason for people to come to your stores other than price, quality and convenience."
Even as ethnic shoppers move beyond the first generation, "they are proud of their heritage, and that is best preserved through the foods they eat," Rosengarten said. Catering to ethnic tastes "can create an important point of differentiation with competitors," he said.
"But building an ethnic business is more than just posting bilingual signs or having a small assortment of products. It involves creating an attitude that allows people to find the foods they want in an atmosphere that feels good.
"And it's not enough to have the items they want to buy. They must also be priced right, consistent with your overall corporate philosophy, and they must be promoted as part of your regular ads.
"There's no sense in carrying an ethnic assortment if you don't include it in your ads, with the same attention given to selecting the right items as you give to other ad items."
Consultants also urge retailers not to overlook Asian, African-American and Mexican consumers.
Luke Ng, an industry consultant based in New Rochelle, N.Y., said the common denominator in Asian tastes is Chinese foods, "and if you stock those items, you will appeal to most Asian shoppers," he said.
Besides a host of fresh fruits and vegetables, Ng said there are particular profits available in meat.
"Don't throw your profits away -- most Asians like chicken feet, pork and beef bones, pigs' feet, innards and tripe. And in the area of seafood, a guaranteed traffic-builder is live fish tanks."
Lauren Swann, president of Concept Nutrition, Bensalem, Pa., stressed the importance of starchy foods -- breads, cereals, grains and potatoes -- when selling to the African-American consumer base. Swann also stressed the importance of pork, chicken, seafood, meat scraps, vegetable shortening, produce items like greens, watermelon and peaches, spices, gravies, hot sauce and corn meal coating when serving this important market.
Darioush Khaledi, chairman and chief executive officer of K.V. Mart, Carson, Calif., -- a chain of 20 stores with a volume of $260 million that caters to a primarily Hispanic clientele -- said massive product displays are essential merchandising elements, along with cheeses, eggs, well-trimmed meats and dry groceries imported from Mexico.
"Ariel detergent, which we import from Mexico, sells as much as all other detergents, including Tide, combined," Khaledi said. "And tortillas outsell 50 or 60 stockkeeping units of bread, requiring two or three deliveries per day."
In response to a question on whether to integrate or segregate ethnic foods, Khaledi said his stores separate them "so customers can find what they need quickly."
Swann said there's no need to segregate foods that appeal to African-American consumers "because they didn't come here as immigrants and their tastes are more mainstream."
Rosengarten said he has merchandised ethnic products both ways, "but with such a large variety of grocery items, you need to separate them -- although integration works better in fresh products."
The experts spoke before a workshop audience here during the Food Marketing Institute's annual convention.