There was a time when tapping into the mainstream spelled success to any retailer in the marketplace. America was the great "melting pot" and assimilation was the pathway for generations of immigrants to achieve their dreams and blend into the vast landscape of middle-class success.
Today, Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American consumers total nearly one-third of the U.S. population. U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that for the first time ever, millions of Americans checked off some variation of the boxes labeled "White," "Black," "Asian" and "American Indian," identifying numerous categories of ethnicity. There are dramatic changes taking place in how Americans define themselves. And, supermarkets, although slow to the plate, are beginning to reach out with new formulas to build their market share. You can read about it in this themed issue on ethnic marketing.
As is the case in food retailing in general, ethnic marketing is about meeting and catering to shoppers' needs. This can be challenging when it comes to ethnic shoppers given their cultural orientation, language barriers, taste differences and the degree of acculturation into the American way of life.
One California-based independent who has been successful is Mike Provenzano, featured on our cover. As president and chief executive officer of Pro & Sons, he has opened Ranch Market stores where no chains want to go -- in low-income, heavily Hispanic areas. Provenzano speaks no Spanish, but he is tapping a lucrative vein by selling authentically made Mexican foods to his mostly Hispanic clientele. Next year when Provenzano has seven stores in operation, he expects to push his six-store business to $106 million from just over $100 million this year. Impressively, his stores sell 3 million tortillas a week and 1,500 bolillos (traditional Mexican rolls) an hour on weekends. That's ethnic marketing at its best!
From other reports in this issue, here are a few things to keep in mind.
After lagging behind mass merchandisers, dollars stores and drug stores in health and beauty care, supermarkets with the help of technology are now poised to break out of the homogenized box where one size and offering fits all. Companies are investing in technology to make sure they are properly positioned in reaching diverse groups in their communities. They are targeting ethnic shoppers through loyalty programs, direct mail, special advertising and the Internet. They are using bilingual signage and hiring ethnic employees that speak the language.
It's also important to dispel any previously held myths. While it appears that Hispanics are brand loyal, they do respond to coupons and price can be an incentive -- although Provenzano discovered quality and freshness rule over price in his produce aisles. Finally, the impact of the global community has made all shoppers open to food experimentation. Many are crossing over to sample ethnic foods. As the bread aisles in supermarkets across the country attest, it's not just white bread any more. Variety and quality counts. As does the color, culture and tastes of today's shoppers.