Hispanic and Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States, and this increasing diversity in the U.S. population is changing the face of the supermarket business.
Based on U.S. Bureau of the Census data, Hispanics will account for between 11% and 12% of the population by the year 2000, while Asians will make up about 6% of the total group.
In major metropolitan areas where these ethnic groups are concentrated, supermarkets expressly cater to them in both product mix and promotion and advertising.
Another factor affecting the growth of ethnic foods across the country is the increasing interest in new tastes and flavors from faraway places.
What all this adds up to is that large retailers like Ralphs Grocery Co., Safeway, Ameri-can Stores Co. and Publix Super Markets are putting an increased emphasis on target marketing in ethnic areas, down to the level of bilingual signage and advertising in some cases. They are also making a greater variety of products available to the general public.
Following are SN's observations of ethnic merchandising programs in three markets: the East Coast, West Coast and Southeast.
SN was taken on a tour of ethnic supermarkets in the heart of the city here by Mike Trueblood, marketing manager for Sales Mark, Sante Fe Springs, Calif.
SN toured 99 Ranch Market, on Hill Street in the oldest "Chinatown" in the city; Yaohan's flagship store in Yaohan Plaza in "little Tokyo"; Vons, on Daly Street in East Los Angeles, the oldest Hispanic area in the city; Food 4 Less, on Hoover and Olympic, in south central Los Angeles: and the flagship store for 32nd St. Markets, also on Hoover, on the border of Watts and across the street from the University of Southern California.
The 99 Ranch Market is a 13-unit independent Chinese supermarket chain. Yaohan, a Japanese chain, has stores in California, Colarado, Illinois and New Jersey. Vons, a division of Safeway, has many stores in Hispanic neighborhoods. This is also true of Food 4 Less, which, according to Trueblood, has 22 of its 40 stores in neighborhoods with high Hispanic demographis. Food 4 Less is a division of Ralphs Grocery Compton, Calif., Finally, 32nd Street Markets is a local independent chain, owned by Morrie Notrica.
The Ranch 99 unit that SN visited is about 25,000 square feet. Although primarily a Chinese supermarket, according to Trueblood, this unit also caters to customers of Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese descent.
Some of the distinctive features of the supermarket include a large selection of rices, in bulk sizes, prominently displayed; a distinctively ethnic product mix in the grocery aisles, including lots of imported items; and very few frozen vegetables.
On a "Wall of Values" next to the produce were large bags of different varieties of white rice, both domestic and imported from places like Thailand and Taiwan. The largest bags were 50 pounds, with price ranges from $15.99 to $22.49.
Also prominent on the Wall of Values were packaged pork rinds, fortune cookies and cakes, canned sodas and drinks, juice boxes and soy drinks and ramen. While 2-liter bottles of mainstream sodas were on sale, most of the beverages were ethnic. For example, small aseptic boxes from Vitasoy (also using the Vita label) included soy, coconut, guava, melon, green pumpkin and sugar cane drinks and coconut chrysanthemum tea. Labeling on the Vita products was printed in both English and Chinese.
Ranch has about 24 doors of frozen foods, mostly ethnic. Not many frozen vegetables were in evidence, but there were plenty of dumplings, egg rolls and pot stickers.
In the grocery aisle, packaged noodles and noodle sticks, both Chinese and Japanese, took up 28 feet of space. Ramen in aisle occupied about 18 feet. Ranch stocks many varieties of canned seafood, including sardines, mackerel, eel, crab meat, clams and squid, as well as tuna. Both domestic and imported brands were available.
The majority of the grocery items could not be found in a mainstream grocery store: for example, packaged wheat and potato flour from Taiwan; tapioca flour from Thailand; rice, palm and coconut vinegars, and so forth.
In the condiments section were both mainstream and Chinese spices and large varieties of soy sauces, both domestic and imported, along with peanut and sesame oils, vinegars, ketchup and tomato and tomato paste.
The Yaohan unit, which caters primarily to those of Japanese descent, is about 50,000 square feet. Like the Chinese supermarket, Yaohan emphasizes rice and soy-based condiments. It carries mostly ethnic food, much of it imported, in the grocery aisles, and has few frozen vegetables or frozen dinners.
Similar to 99 Ranch, Yaohan has a "sale aisle," on the right side of the store. During an in-store visit, this aisle offered sake and wine, among other items.
Also in the sale aisle were large pallets of rice, mostly in 20-pound sizes, with prices ranging from $7.99 to $12.99. Many of these were Asian-style rices, but they were of U.S. origin. Some of the rices were coated, with corn syrup or glucose.
In the liquor section, next to the sale aisle, were many stockkeeping units of sake, all of which were imported from Japan.
In the frozen-food aisle, as at 99 Ranch, there was little domestic ice cream, but there were more SKUs of Fubuki ice cream and frozen novelties, with flavors like green tea and red bean. Also in the freezer section were cakes and desserts, pot stickers (gyoza), dumplings, noodles and soybeans.
Some of the mainstream products that could be found at Yaohan included bottled and canned juices, coffee, hot and cold cereals and cereal bars, and jams. Yaohan had more of these than the Ranch market.
Dried and packaged goods were mostly Japanese: wheat, flour and dry noodles; rice bran; dried mushrooms; soy, black and aduki beans; wheat flour and bread mixes. Most of the soy-based condiments were also imported, as were items like seaweed, shaved fish, nori, curry sauces and soup stocks. Soy sauces occupied about 28 feet in one aisle; rice wines and vinegars for cooking were merchandised in an additional 12 feet.
SN also visited three Hispanic supermarkets, all of which have some similarities. First, all three make use of massive displays of sale items, at the front of the store, on endcaps, and/or on a Wall of Values. Second, baby sections in these stores are very large. Third, bulk sizes are prominently featured.
Vons on Daly Street made use of massive displays, and even merchandised many specials outside. These "manager's specials" were stacked up against the front wall of the store and several feet away from the building, but in front of it. Some items were under a canopy.
Specials, many in large sizes, included soft drinks, packaged snacks, ramen, green beans, Sangria, detergent (imported from Mexico), dog food and paper towels. Inside the store there were more specials, most of them displayed on massive endcaps at the front of the store.
During SN's visit, Safeway's brand of Select sodas was on sale, 99 cents for 3 liters of orange, lemon lime, strawberry and cola, as well as 2-liter sizes of Pepsi, Slice and Mountain Dew, at two for 99 cents.
Some of the other items on endcaps included ramen, beer, corn oil (48 ounces for $1.99), frozen chicken and pizza, vegetables, Corn Bursts corn cereal, Bumble Bee tuna (five 6-ounce cans for $3), apple juice and cider, and hominy.
A large display of tortillas was stacked against the wall on the right-hand side of the store. Brands were both domestic and imported from Mexico. A beverage section at the front of the store stocked hard liquor and drink mixes, as well as snacks and candy. Also merchandised up front were cases of Enfamil formula, with a sign saying it is included in the Women, Infants and Children program. Formula was $13.99 per case.
In the baby section, diapers took up 32 feet. Wipes occupied another 12 feet; formula and training pants, 14 feet; and baby food, 12 feet. Some Beech Nut and Gerber dry cereals were marked as WIC items.
The store carried a number of imported items, most of which were from Mexico, such as sodas, spices, ice cream, pastas, chilies, canned condiments and vegetables.
Vons, as well as the other two Hispanic supermarkets, carried large sizes of rices in a variety of brands. Pasta was packaged in plastic laydown bags rather than in boxes. Dry beans were prominent in all three stores. At Vons there were 50-pound bags of pinto beans available in the produce aisle for $16.50.
Some of the canned Hispanic items at Vons included quince and mango paste, hearts of palm, cactus, jalepeno peppers, hominy and menudo.
Food 4 Less had a Wall of Values that offered such items as soft drinks, beer, cooking oil, paper towels, bleach, cereal, cookies and crackers, and picante and barbecue sauces.
This store had a more mixed demographic, of Hispanics, African-Americans and some Asians, although customers appeared to be primarily Hispanic.
The atmosphere at Food 4 Less was similar to a club or warehouse store, with large pallets stacked on top of shelving, and items in-line still in their cardboard boxes. A sign in the store said, "Why shop at the clubs? No membership fees!"
In the frozen-food aisle were club packs and large sizes of burritos, chimichangas, bagged potatoes, waffles, pizza, mozzarella sticks, pretzels, hot pockets, lasagne, macaroni and cheese, meat loaf and whipped potatoes, and Mexican appetizers.
The 32nd Street Market, a six-unit independent, caters to Hispanics, African-Americans, whites, Asians and Middle Eastern customers. Its merchandising philosophy ensures that ethnic selections are available, without calling too much attention to one group, with bilingual signage, for example, that could alienate other groups, said Notrica.
Nonetheless, there were some bilingual aisle signs at the flagship store, which caters to a mixed demographic, including the academic community nearby.
As in the other stores, spices, including chilies, were merchandised in the produce aisle, in 10 feet of space. The store also made use of prominent signage on endcaps to advertise a number of sales, but the displays were not as massive as in the Vons or the Food 4 Less.
The baby aisle was also extensive in this store, but not as large as in the other two Hispanic units SN visited. Another aisle, labeled "international foods," had about 48 feet of natural and dietetic foods. In the same aisle, Mexican foods were given 48 feet, and Oriental foods 28 feet.
Marketing to this city's burgeoning Hispanic population "es muy importante" to local supermarket operators.
To serve Miami's majority immigrant population, area supermarkets stock more Hispanic-oriented Center Store foods, including name-brand items imported from Latin America.
Supermarkets in Miami have a wider selection of canned tropical fruits, coconut milk, pimentos, olives, cookies, marinades, rice, and imported detergents and household cleaners than are found in conventional supermarkets.
Unlike most stores -- where Hispanic food is merchandised in ethnic aisles along with Chinese, Indian, Thai and German products -- Miami supermarkets merchandise the Hispanic products next to mainstream selections.
To make shopping easier for their customers, Miami stores print bilingual circulars and signage.
One area where Miami's Latin flavor is best experienced is along West Flager Street, which traverses the city and leads right into the heart of downtown. Publix, Winn-Dixie Stores and Sedano's all have outposts along the avenue, and Albertson's operates a huge store a couple of miles away on Bird Road.
The downtown section of West Flager has a Latin/American flair. Signage for drug stores, liquor stores, restaurants and ethnic retailers like Sedano's is written solely in Spanish.
Mainstream supermarkets have also taken steps to cater to the Hispanic customer. One of the best marketers to Hispanics is the Publix store in the Flager Plaza, at 82nd Avenue and West Flager. On a recent Sunday afternoon, the store was packed with customers, most of whom were Hispanic, SN found during