HOUSTON -- Produce and other perishables are the key components to a retailer's ethnic marketing strategy, a panel of industry executives said during last month's National Grocers Association convention here.
The reason is that fresh foods weigh heavily in the minds of consumers when they're thinking of ethnic specialties, the panelists said.
Marketing to different ethnic or cultural groups takes more than carrying a few ethnic products, hanging store signs or sponsoring a local organization, said panelist Jay Rosengarten, president of The Rosengarten Group, Rye, N.Y.
"There must be a dedication to quality, variety, display, promotion, pricing and personnel that complement the ethnic, cultural or regional groups you are trying to attract," he added.
Variety means carrying those items that are familiar to the ethnic shopper. For example, fruits and vegetables such as Roma and beefsteak tomatoes; portabello, criminni and porcini mushrooms; fresh figs; and fresh herbs, are essential to traditional Italian cooking, Rosengarten said.
Mozzarella, ricotta and other cheese offerings must be available, as cheese is a primary ingredient in many Italian dishes. The deli is an important resource to those shoppers looking for prosciutto, parmigiano, gorgonzola and romano.
Veal must be available in the meat department. Also beef braciole, chopped beef, pork and homemade sausage should have a presence in the case.
An increased variety of seafood products also appeals to Latinos with a Caribbean background, Rosengarten noted.
Live crabs, shrimp, conch, red snapper, blue snapper, kingfish, bacalao (dried cod) and pulpo (octopus) are essential when targeting the Hispanic culture's island segment.
Tropical fruits and vegetables including mangoes, papayas, avocados, batata, yucca and plantains also encourage Hispanics to shop your store, Rosengarten said.
Hispanics of Mexican heritage search out chilies, limes, lemons, tomatoes, corn, jicama, pine nuts, squash, edible cactus and onions.
Speaker C.G. Evans, general manager of La Tienda Foods, Carlsbad, N.M. added that his produce department also carries fresh cilantro and pomegranates. His stores cater to a market that is 40% to 60% Hispanic.
"I want to see massive merchandising in my perishables departments with a view towards family packs and product lines that the Hispanics are looking for," said La Tienda president and owner Bill Fenn.
In fact, chilies are so important to his consumers, his store organizes an annual chili roaster event. The event usually takes place in the fall. The store sells them by the bushel or 35-pound sacks. "It's not unusual to sell a truckload or trailer-load during a weekend promotion," Evans said. This year, La Tienda plans to add roasted ears of corn to the event, per a customer's request, he added.
Evans' customers also prefer thin cuts of meat in the meat case. His store carries hog heads for traditional tamale making, which falls around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tripe, oxtail, cows' feet, pigs' feet and goat meat is also in demand.
Fenn said that bakery fits in the strategy, too. "I want them to smell fresh Hispanic baked goods," he said.
Despite warnings, Fenn installed a tortilla machine which produces both flour and corn tortillas. Taco shells, tortilla chips and fried pork skins are also possible.
"We were told when we first started making tortillas that it would never work because most Hispanic people make their own. Instead we have created a relationship with the Hispanic family in which they depend on us exclusively for a food item that they present at every meal," Evans said.
While Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the population in the United States, panelist David Kim, chairman of the National Korean American Grocers Association, Los Angeles, urged attendees not to neglect the growing Asian population.