Retailers know the U.S. population of Hispanics is growing as quickly as its economic clout. What they need now is more reliable subcultural data so their stores can cater better to the Latino consumer.
One way traditional supermarkets are doing this is collaborating more closely with consumer packaged goods manufacturers. Such relationships often translate into unique retail events, displays and advertising.
Food City, a 58-unit Hispanic chain that Bashas', Chandler, Ariz., acquired in 1993, knows all about manufacturer partnerships. Through in-store and out-of-store events, Food City's commitment to the Hispanic consumer is evident.
For instance, it's currently gearing up for its fourth annual tamale festival in downtown Phoenix, an event that showcases tamale ingredients, recipes and fun. A variety of Center Store groceries -- including corn flour, vegetable oil, olives and spices -- will be featured.
Vendor participation is an integral part of the celebration. This year, Maseca- and Mazola-brand cooking oils, the Clamato brand from Mott's, along with a variety of foods from Kraft and other manufacturers, will be showcased.
"This is another way that we and manufacturers can work together to maximize sales," said Robert Ortiz, vice president of sales and merchandising for Food City, whose customer base is 50% to 90% Hispanic -- primarily immigrants from Mexico.
The festival is so popular that about 50,000 people attend each year.
"From a cultural standpoint, our customers love it because it's all about them," said Ortiz. "It allows them to feel like Food City is their store."
Timed for the holidays, this year's event will run Dec. 11 and 12. The purpose is to show Food City's appreciation of Hispanic customs, specifically the holiday meal, as most Hispanics include tamales with their Christmas dinners.
"Tamales are as important at Christmas as turkey is on Thanksgiving," Ortiz said, adding that the festival also appeals to Anglos, who may not make tamales from scratch, but enjoy eating them.
Jungle Jim's, Fairfield, Ohio, hosts smaller-scale happenings several times a week in the Hispanic section of its international foods department. Hispanics account for about 8% to 10% of Jungle Jim's customer base.
One of its greatest assets is its longtime sampler, a friendly woman from the Honduras who appears in-store every Wednesday through Friday to prepare and sample various Hispanic foods, according to Tom Hann, the retailer's director of international foods.
"People come in and look for her because they like her style of cooking and the fact that she's bilingual," said Hann.
Likewise, Jungle Jim's partners with manufacturers like La Preferida -- a Chicago-based marketer of Mexican beans, rice, pasta and other products -- to conduct in-store couponing. Even if the face value is just 25 cents, a coupon makes a big impression on Hispanics, Hann said.
"Hispanic shoppers are very value-conscious and amenable to discounted pricing," he said.
Along with couponing and displays, retailers can work with manufacturers to woo Hispanics in other ways.
Take Caputo's Fresh Markets, Addison, Ill., which turned to manufacturers last month to help celebrate the grand re-opening of its Hanover Park, Ill., store.
La Preferida responded by tagging Caputo's at the end of its local radio ads and providing Caputo's with a 40-foot inflatable can of beans. Caputo's placed the giant prop outside the store to capture consumer attention.
"La Preferida's involvement helped us a lot during the re-opening of the store," said Dale Ohman, Caputo's business development manager.
Caputo's is so pleased with the results that it may approach La Preferida next year to sponsor one of the acts in its annual one-ring circus, held in the parking lot of its Addison unit.
Now that the nation's largest minority group is becoming acculturated, efforts like these are needed if retailers want to play a significant role in helping them become Americanized shoppers who patronize mainstream supermarkets.
"The easy days of Hispanic marketing are over," said Paul Castillo, managing director of PanaVista, Dallas, the ethnic marketing division of Ryan Partnership, a marketing services company based in Wilton, Conn.
This means, in part, it's no longer sufficient to cater to Hispanics as one umbrella. Rather, it's necessary to acknowledge the different groups of consumers that live in the United States and the acculturation processes they experience, said Jenny Enochson, director of marketing communications at Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich.
It also necessitates developing long-term strategies and tactics that honor Hispanic homelands. Just because they have settled in the United States does not mean they've forgotten their roots.
"Patriotism and heritage need to be recognized because they are living away from their countries," Enochson told SN.
One way Kellogg is acknowledging Hispanic traditions is with a promotion timed to the just-concluded Hispanic Heritage Month. Kellogg featured a mail-in offer on about 60,000 bilingual packages of Kellogg's Corn Flakes and Frosted Flakes. Consumers who send in two proofs of purchase, plus $5.99, can get a set of spoons or bowls featuring the coat of arms from one of nine countries: Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the United States.
"This shows our commitment to honor what is important to the entire Hispanic community and not just to a select group of Hispanic consumers," Enochson said.
Along with Kellogg, Mott's, Rye Brook, N.Y., a division of Cadbury Schweppes, uses retail promotions to demonstrate its respect for Hispanic customs. In celebration of Mexican Independence Day, Sept. 16, Mott's offered $1-off coupons for Clamato with a Budweiser beer purchase. Clamato, a juice made from a blend of tomatoes, onions, celery, spices and clams, is a favorite beer mixer in some Hispanic cultures.
Food City supported the Bud/Clamato promotion with incremental displays, though it's one of the many times Clamato receives special attention at Food City. This year alone, Clamato will run about 60 in-store events at the retailer.
Mott's has done so much work for Food City that the retailer considers it one of its strongest manufacturer partnerships, according to Ortiz.
Officials from Mott's concurred.
"Our Food City relationship is very valuable," said Anton Rivera, the brand's associate product manager. "Food City is ahead of the curve in terms of understanding the needs of the Hispanic shopper."
Food City heavily supports what Mott's calls a "Clamateria." This is a product demonstration event involving Clamato as an ingredient in various Hispanic seafood dishes, such as ceviche. The purpose of these events is to show how quickly and easily seafood dishes can be prepared using Clamato, and they typically include product samples and coupons for Clamato.
Creating this kind of in-store excitement could mean all the difference between whether or not a Hispanic will purchase a product, said Rivera. While Hispanics are extremely brand loyal once comfortable with a brand, they're often reluctant as a group to try new products.
"Hispanics like to try before they buy," Rivera said.
Castillo of PanaVista agreed that while in-store sampling is fine, it should be married with couponing and product demonstrations when targeting the Hispanic population.
"You have to cook a product, and let them smell and feel it," Castillo said of the demo process.
Food Lion stores has reached out to Hispanic shoppers in a more direct fashion. The Salisbury, N.C.-based retailer introduced its own private-label line of white corn and flour tortillas. The Sierra Madre label, with a distinctive, green, orange and gold logo, can be found integrated with other Hispanic-themed products in nearly 1,000 stores. To increase awareness of the new item, the chain is featuring the tortillas in its weekly Spanish flier, which is written entirely in Spanish.
"It includes a combination of products: those found in our normal weekly flier and those geared specifically toward our Hispanic and Latino customers," said Jeff Lowrance, spokesman for the chain. "The Sierra Madre tortillas have appeared, and will continue to appear, in the Spanish in-store flier."
The retailer would consider adding additional Hispanic products to its private-label mix if the tortillas are a success, but has no immediate plans to do so, Lowrance told SN. "Since the product is so new, we are still gaining consumer feedback. We'll let that be our guide," he said.