From soccer games to cultural festivals, a variety of community events are being held to market to Hispanic consumers at the local level.
Taking a direct route into the Hispanic community has proven to be so effective that marketers plan to do more of it. Some who haven't mapped out an aggressive grassroots strategy yet are getting ready to do so, they said. In preparation, they're sweetening up their product lines with new flavors, such as Dulce de Leche and Mandarina.
Coca-Cola, M&M/Mars, Del Monte, Unilever Bestfoods and Kraft are among those that increased their community outreach activities over the last year, linking up with high schools and community centers to meet the Hispanic consumer in his own backyard. Coca-Cola brought a high school soccer team event that's been successful in Mexico across the border to Texas for the first time last spring and will take the event into additional U.S. markets this year.
"In Houston and Dallas, our Copa Coca-Cola, which is like a mini-World Cup soccer competition, was right in line with our main objective to develop relationships with consumers at local levels, and it was extremely successful," said Anali Cline, brand manager, Coca-Cola Classic Hispanic marketing, Coca-Cola North America, Atlanta.
Feedback from the Hispanic community and from retailers who participated in promoting the event was so good it left no doubt about repeating it this year and taking the event to other U.S. markets, Cline said.
"There was a lot of media attention, too. In Dallas, the Spanish-language radio station was interviewing players and their coaches, and that created excitement."
The winning team, from a Houston high school, was given the opportunity to compete in Mexico City against other high school teams from Mexico and South America. The event was a natural because Coca-Cola has a strong relationship with soccer, having sponsored the Mexican national team for years and many of the South American teams as well. And Hispanics' enthusiasm for the game is huge, Cline said.
"We've discovered that the best way to build up relationships with an ethnic group is to tie into relevant passion points, and the local connection gives us a great opportunity to do that," Cline said.
This is not the first time by far that Coca-Cola has reached out to Hispanics in the United States via a sport. One particularly successful tie-in has been with baseball, sponsoring Little League and other local events in Miami and New York. Hispanics in those two locations are avid followers of the sport, Cline pointed out.
This past fall, M&M/Mars chose a Mexican Independence Day celebration in Los Angeles that draws more than 100,000 Latinos each year as a launch site for its new M&M candy flavor, Dulce de Leche/caramel, and Unilever Bestfoods took the local route to promote the U.S. debut of its Hellmann's/Best Foods mayonnaise with lime juice last spring. The mayonnaise is marketed under Hellmann's brand on the East Coast; under the Best Foods brand on the West Coast.
"We're using tag lines on some of our television ads for Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise, but the primary thrust [on behalf of mayonnaise with lime juice] is grassroots festivals like Calle Ocho and Cinco de Mayo," said Fabio Marciano, senior associate brand manager, Hellmann's/Best Foods mayonnaise, Unilever Bestfoods, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
Del Monte Foods, after creating its first community outreach event in a Hispanic section of Los Angeles about a year ago, followed it with others, including a successful Mother's Day fete at Hispanic community centers in Miami and Chicago. The results have been so pleasing that the company will more than double its efforts in that direction this year, said Bill Spain, senior vice president, corporate affairs, at Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Del Monte.
"It has been positive enough that we'll definitely continue this. We had holiday-related events [in December] in New York, Chicago, Houston and Miami, and we'll do some type of community event in 10 other markets in 2002," Spain said.
"What we're trying to do is marry our brand and our product to the Hispanic community. Community outreach just seemed a good way for us to go. Hispanics already are big fans of our canned tomatoes and other vegetables, and this just strengthens the relationship. We make these events fun. There are things for the kids to do, and we give the parents recipe and nutrition tips and some product."
The Mother's Day event was particularly rewarding, according to Cristina Benitez, president and founder of Lazos Latinos, a Chicago advertising agency that worked with Del Monte on that event and others.
"Mother's Day is very important to the Hispanic community. The mother is very important and respected. She's the glue that holds the family together," Benitez said.
Del Monte has also increased merchandising efforts with bilingual point-of-purchase advertising materials in some markets. The company has used tear-off recipe pads in front of their canned fruits and vegetables. One is for a pineapple upside-down cake, a dessert that Benitez said is very popular with Hispanics.
To be successful, events should tap into relevant motivators in the Hispanic culture, said Benitez. Getting involved with local community organizations to participate in annual community celebrations is one way to go, she said.
A case in point is M&M/Mars. It pinpointed sports events and festivals heavily attended by Hispanics for the debut of its new M&M flavor, Dulce de Leche/caramel. Mexican Independence Day in Los Angeles and Miami Dolphin home games have been the most notable so far, said Roberto Garcia, the Hackettstown, N.J., company's ethnic marketing director.
"Dolphins games are attended by 60,000 to 70,000 people and more than a third of them are Hispanic. We had a presence there with the M&M characters and we gave out try-me sample packs. Sporting events and festivals are good ways to reach Hispanics because they attend with their families." One of the next big events on M&M/Mars' schedule is Miami's Calle Ocho in the spring.
"All along Southwest 8th Street, Little Havana, there will be miles and miles of festivals attended by Cuban-Americans. We'll be there," Garcia said.
So will Unilever Bestfoods with its Mayonesa con Jugo de Limon, even though that product was developed with Mexican-Americans in mind. In fact, 80% of mayonnaise consumed in Mexico has lime juice in it, the company discovered. Unilever Bestfoods had been distributing a mayonnaise with lime juice in Mexico for years before it gave the product its debut in the United States.
That product and the new M&Ms flavor represent a big reach into the U.S. Hispanic market.
"That's what's new this year. [Brand marketers] are getting more serious about their approach to the Hispanic community by developing products and packaging that those consumers really want," said Ken Robb, principal, who heads up the retail practice for Technomic, a Chicago-based consultancy.
Dulce de Leche M&Ms and mayonnaise with lime juice are good examples. Over a year and a half of market research and testing of different prototypes preceded the new M&M debut this past fall, M&M/Mars' Garcia said. "We're the first candy company in the U.S. to add this flavor. It's very popular in Latin America. The flavor is caramel made from milk," said Garcia.
The company was sensitive, too, to the different segments of the Hispanic market when it designed its packaging. For example, "Dulce de Leche," which literally means "sweet of milk" is a generic term familiar to all Hispanics, Garcia explained. But in Mexico, "cajeta" is the word commonly used for the flavor, and so the packages distributed in southern California and Texas carry that word instead of "Dulce de Leche." The packages are also designed to have appeal beyond the borders of the Hispanic community.
"We follow the Spanish words [on the packages] with "caramel" just so non-Hispanic-speaking people will know what the flavor is like," Garcia said.
Meanwhile, other manufacturers added Dulce de Leche -- which some say is destined to become a household word in the United States -- to existing product lines and have added other items popular with Hispanics.
Dulce de Leche, for example, is one of the flavors in Dannon's new la Creme creamy yogurt line, and the J.M. Smucker Co. has introduced a Dulce de Leche ice cream topping.
Kraft, continuing a series of outreach events in Hispanic communities this year, has a line-up of new products that will get a send-off there. Among them are Jell-O brand Gelatina Paralech, a milk-based gelatin popular with Hispanics and a new Kool-Aid flavor, mandarina. What's more, that ever-popular grocery item Kraft macaroni and cheese will hit U.S. shelves for the first time in a bilingual package, said a spokeswoman for the Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft.
Consultants and others in the industry said they've seen activity heating up all over in the last year.
"It's been slow, but I think the 2000 census fell on attentive ears. Recently they [marketers] are doing anything they can to attract this fastest-growing market in the United States. It took some time for them to realize it wasn't just politically correct, but also a good business move," said Yuri Radzievsky, chairman of GlobalWorks Group, a New York agency that specializes in online and offline Hispanic marketing.
Win Davis, president of Win-Formation, a Richmond, Va., brand-positioning and corporate communications firm, agreed.
"I do see more companies trying to penetrate the Hispanic community. Coke and Pepsi and the beer companies seemed to be leading the charge but the food companies are getting more involved."