DALLAS (FNS) -- Marketing to the Hispanic population has nuances that operators are putting to work in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Hispanics generally have larger families than their Anglo counterparts; therefore they seek packaged goods in greater quantities. Store design needs to be friendly and oriented to the family-outing shopping style of Hispanic shoppers. Above all, Hispanic consumers want products they have grown up with -- both in America and abroad -- and the products have to be merchandised the way they are accustomed to seeing them.
Taking into account these definite consumer directives, retailers catering to the Hispanic shoppers in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, market bend their marketing styles in an effort to be unique.
The operators recently visited by SN each feature new or newly remodeled sales floors boasting wide aisles and large service departments within the dry grocery area that focus on family-oriented products in large unit counts. To help customers feel comfortable, signage is bilingual and what would be considered specialty items in an Anglo-oriented market are presented in bountiful displays. Price-point promotion is the leading merchandising technique with off-shelf displays being put to work at Coppell, Texas-based Minyard Food Stores' Carnival Food Stores format; Houston-based Fiesta Mart; and leading local independent Cost + Plus Foods.
Each of these stores offers an atmosphere that is full of colors, banners, flags and music. Carnival pipes music into the parking lot, while Fiesta had a live performer entertaining customers entering its Fort Worth unit during SN's recent Saturday afternoon visit.
Vendors sell tacos and roasted corn from catering trucks in the parking lots. Prepared traditional favorites, Gorditas, burritos and ceveche, are served up with South of the Border beverages such as rice-based Orchata and other, fruit-based favorites. Just outside the door or inside the unit's entrance stands of vendors offer audiotapes, home decor items, jewelry and leather goods to inbound shoppers.
Where the 20-unit Carnival Food Stores chain differentiates itself is in the manner in which it merchandises Hispanic Center Store products to its largely Hispanic shopping base.
Carnival has taken its basic Center Store floor plan and positioned one running aisle as its imported and specialty destination. Dried herbs, candy, crackers and cookies, pastas and beverages, along with specialty items such as packaged tortillas, flour mixes and lard, make up the core of the aisle. Canned items necessary for Hispanic cuisine, such as condiments, beans and chilies, round out the aisle.
"Most of the items we have grouped together are flavors our shoppers have grown up with," said James Cook, vice president of Carnival Food Stores. "We are different here from an Anglo store. We have to find out what our customer base is before we know what to buy."
Some of the best sellers in the aisle are cookies, Maria cookies in particular. Hispanic consumers particularly enjoy Maria cookies with coffee or hot cocoa at home. When units offer Maria cookies on special it is not unheard of to move two to three pallets, say store managers. Cook estimates that the imported cookies outpace traditional American brands in sales by more than half. Another fast-turning category is fruit drinks and fruit juices, selling four times more than soda pop, according to unit managers. In one of the units visited by SN, beverages in the aisle commanded more than 30 feet of multideck space.
This power aisle creates a destination within the store and one store manager estimates that close to one-quarter of dry-grocery sales happen in the aisle.
"Carnival offers variety," said Cook. "And we offer value." The chain has recently increased its promotions and giveaways as one merchandising method to boost in-unit excitement. "Competition comes from all sides," said Cook. "We are competitive, advertising on Hispanic television stations and in newspapers, to educate customers that Carnival has the products they are looking for. It's like football; you've got to outsmart the other team in service, promotion, variety and price."
The chain also relies on Minyard and Sack-and-Save units to give the entire operation a leg up on demographic shifts. Having existing units throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area works to the retailer's benefit, allowing it to use available real estate to present a merchandising format to meet a neighborhood's needs at light speed. "We are in a position to change and change quickly," said Cook. "We are in so many areas of the Metroplex that we have an excellent opportunity to grow with the community."
Units within the Carnival chain range in size from 15,000 to 60,000 square feet. Only two units have been built from the ground up.
Customer counts are increasing through deepening Carnival's presence in the market place and from new immigrants, said Cook. As a result, offering the variety and selection of traditional Hispanic ingredients from a wide number of countries is important in keeping customers satisfied.
Carnival pits its customer service against the competition. While at Carnival, Fiesta and Cost + Plus Foods, customers can pay for utilities and purchase prepaid phone cards or money orders, but Carnival offers carrying orders out to customer's vehicles as an added service. "Our stores are going more to servicing the customer," said Cook. "Our employees are also educated how to merchandise and how to keep the store ready for our customers."
Another customer service Carnival prides itself on is fulfilling customer's product requests. "We don't have a set-in-stone schematic," said Mario Aguero, assistant manager. "We have the flexibility to cater to our customer's needs." He cited one example -- canned beets. In most Carnival stores canned beets are not a big seller, however in one unit there are eight facings. The concentrated Salvadoran trade made canned beets, which are served with Papausa, a top seller. "Even if the customer's requested item is not in our warehouse, we will seek vendors to satisfy the need," said Aguero.
The chain also strives to hire employees who mirror their customers' background. Native Texas-raised individuals and emigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and other Spanish-speaking countries each bring their cultural expertise to products offered at Carnival.