SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Supermarket operators can take a bigger slice of the marketplace with ethnic meat and a good marketing plan, speakers told attendees at the recent Eastern Perishable Products Association's Expo here.
Indeed, panelist Kevin O'Brien, ethnic specialist, Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., feels so strongly about keying into particular ethnic groups' needs that he called it the key to future sales.
"The retailer who's successful today and tomorrow is the one who merchandises and markets his store to the multicultural community in his trade area. Simply stated, sell the customer what he wants to buy," O'Brien said.
He focused on how to make the most of a kosher meat and poultry section, and other speakers talked about maximizing opportunities to target the Muslim and Hispanic consumers with meat selections.
O'Brien, before he joined Wakefern, was with Pathmark Stores, Carteret, N.J., for 23 years. He spent several of those years as manager of a Pathmark store that sits on the edge of a large orthodox Jewish community. There, he said, he got an education in marketing to the kosher consumer.
"More than 60% of my customer base was orthodox and Hasidic. By the time I left that store, our Empire tray-pack poultry had hit well over $1 million a year. We were recognized as having the largest sales for Passover of any single store in the United States," O'Brien said.
While that store was particularly well situated, O'Brien emphasized that a store can make such a reputation for itself with a good kosher section that it can draw customers from miles away.
"At Wakefern, in several areas, we have service kosher meat sections, with a cutting area in back and we get customers that drive almost an hour to get there."
To get started in kosher meat, O'Brien suggested beginning with frozen items and then adding a small section of fresh meat and poultry.
"At Pathmark, we started with just a 4-foot section of poultry," said O'Brien. He emphasized the importance of connecting with the community before developing a plan. For instance, he said that in addition to seeing what the competition is offering, retailers can learn a lot by contacting temples and community organizations and then running focus groups.
While the kosher process requires special handling of meat and rabbinical supervision, the cost is worth it, O'Brien said. Demand for the products goes beyond the Jewish community. Kosher products are purchased by vegetarians, Muslims and other customers who believe the products are better and safer because the preparation is supervised.
O'Brien stressed the need, too, to become familiar with the customs of a targeted ethnic group.
"In observant Jewish areas, Wednesday and Thursday are heavy buildup days, so you want to have product out. But there's a Jewish holiday that's a nonmeat holiday so you don't want to fill up the meat case then."
O'Brien pointed out Passover accounts for 40% of all kosher sales in this country, and 92% of American Jews celebrate Passover. That clearly means a retailer not geared up to offer customers everything they need pre-Passover is missing out on a lot of rings, he said.
O'Brien suggested working closely with suppliers because they have done their own research on what ethnic consumers want, and can also supply point-of-purchase materials.
Like the kosher consumer, the Muslim consumer doesn't eat pork, but he does eat a variety of meats and poultry, including goat. The process of preparing halal meat, which is done in accordance with Muslim dietary laws, also requires supervision by religious leaders. In fact, each animal must be slaughtered by a Muslim who recites a prayer to Allah during the slaughter.
Echoing the other speakers, Syed Ajaz Hussein, who represents Al Safa Halal, a Niagara Falls, N.Y., supplier, said it's essential to learn about the community's customs and holidays.
The month from mid-November to mid-December, for example, represents a good opportunity for retailers, Hussein said.
"During Ramadan, a religious observance, Muslims must fast from sunrise to sunset, but at sunset they break the fast and have a large feast with friends and family. That's every day."
Hussein suggested retailers look around their neighborhoods to see if there are mosques or Muslim organizations. By serving their needs in the meat case, a retailer can secure a whole new customer base, he said.
"With halal you'll get new customers, and they'll buy much more -- milk, eggs, treats for the kids."
The biggest opportunities in retail lie in marketing to Hispanics, said Richard Romanoff, president and chief executive officer of Nebraskaland, Newark, N.J.
"Hispanics make almost twice as many trips to the supermarket as other customers, 1.9 a week, and they cook 5.6 nights a week. A full 53% cook every night," he said.
But retailers should keep in mind Hispanics represent many ethnic groups, with extremely varied tastes and preferences, he said.