Recently arrived on the ethnic-food scene are products marketed to African-Americans, particularly Southern brands.
While African-Americans have been eating "soul food" for generations, what is new is the number of grocery and frozen-food items targeted specifically to this group. The new ethnic entries generally come in upscale packaging and are formulated as a convenience food for the busy consumer.
A recent surge of interest in Southern cooking has been fueled by the consumer pursuit of new tastes, as well as other factors. Tony Flores, a marketing consultant for Vargas Flores & Amigos, based in Atlanta, explained that "Ethnic products have become a significant growth category, because of mainstream interest resulting from travel, intermarriage, changing demographics and groups coming together in fellowship."
But what is African-American food? According to Wuanda Walls, who lectures on what she calls "the African influence on American foods," it is cuisine developed in the South by African-Americans who combined indigenous American ingredients with tropical spices as well as traditional African items.
In a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Wells noted, for example, that "Rice and black-eyed peas became Hoppin' John in the Caribbean and in the South." The influence was extended, she said, to the chile dishes of Mexico and the red beans and rice of New Orleans.
According to Briggs Adams, a consultant for Certified Grocers of California, Los Angeles, African-American foods are becoming a growth category in supermarkets.
One of the new companies providing products is Glory Foods, based in Columbus, Ohio. In 1989, the founders of the company were discussing the preparation of traditional Southern-style cooking and realized it was laborious and time-consuming. In addition, they were unable to find quality Southern food in supermarkets. This was the catalyst for Glory Foods, which today provides canned and frozen items to about 8,000 supermarkets in 29 states, according to Angela E. Smith, public relations officer for the company.
"The products were first introduced in a limited test run in 1983 in Ohio and sold out immediately," she said. Smith attributes the company's success to the fact that "Glory products are seasoned with spices that capture the taste of Southern cooking." The company manufactures collard greens, black-eyed peas, mixed greens, kale, string beans and string beans with potatoes, among other items. The company recently added a frozen-food line.
"Convenience is the key," said Smith, "and Glory Foods was created for people with busy lifestyles."
Other companies have also gotten into the act, such as American Comfort Foods, Louisville, Ky., which makes a popular bread pudding mix sold in Kroger stores; African American Quality Products, Forest Park, Ga.; and Jacques Pepin, located in Napa Valley, Calif.
African American Quality Products began in 1990, with one flavor of potato chip in a 1-ounce package. Today, the company markets three chip flavors and four soda flavors, in addition to a complete frozen line of chicken nuggets, patties and tenders; pork nuggets; cooked and uncooked chitterlings; and five types of smoked sausages, barbecue meats and pizza. The company is planning to expand into Caribbean cuisine.
Jacques Pepin, a five-year-old venture that sells flavored oil dressings, is rapidly growing, said Monica Villanueva, a company spokeswoman. Although its products were initially available only in specialty stores, they are being adopted by larger supermarket chains. Patrick Sheils, executive vice president of Associated Foods, Jamaica, N.Y., told SN that "African-Americans are the predominant buyers of these new foods. Some of the foods Associated sells very well to African-Americans include Lux collards and beans, Jiffy corn muffin mix, and the Glory products, particularly Glory's collard greens, okra and various peas and beans."
He pointed out, however, that everyone buys Uncle Ben's Rice, traditionally an African-American product. Therefore, once a product has established itself, it usually has crossover appeal.
African-American offerings are generally promoted using traditional merchandising and marketing practices, according to the retailers SN spoke with, such as circulars, endcaps and advertisements in local newspapers. Jeff Bruer, manager of Cub Foods in Decatur, Ga., said his company promotes African-American products by cross merchandising them with similar ethnic offerings, and that they are also promoted around the holidays.
Sheils said that "Ethnic products are promoted more effectively in our stores where we develop ethnic-food displays."
Scott Anderson, manager of County Market in Worthington, Minn., said his store cross merchandises African-American selections with items marketed to Hispanics and Asians. County Market uses radio advertisements and hands out fliers at soccer games and similar events to advertise its ethnic offerings, particularly to the Hispanic community.
Adams told SN that Apple Supermarkets, independent stores in the Los Angeles area supplied by Certified, has been actively promoting these new items as part of an ongoing group advertising and promotional program. He also noted that the wholesaler has been proactive in providing ethnic items to customers.
More often than not, African-American foods are integrated alongside mainstream items, retailers told SN.
Prices for African-American items are comparable to similar mainstream offerings, according to most retailers.