Juvenal Chavez is the founder and chairman of the board of Mi Pueblo Foods.
The seemingly instantaneous evolution of the U.S. Hispanic population has undoubtedly impacted almost every industry in the country, and Hispanic grocers are no exception. Twenty years ago, the majority of this demographic group was foreign-born and slower to assimilate, preferring to buy the products they grew up with in retailers that reminded them of the markets in their home countries. Today, it’s their U.S.-born children who are walking into our stores, driving the $1.2 trillion collective purchasing power of their demographic.
Over the last few years, superstores and value stores alike have quickly expanded their “International Foods” aisle into entire sections of their stores (in some cases even opened Latino-specific locations) and launched bilingual campaigns to attract these golden customers. Consumers looking for the nostalgic or specialty ingredients they need to recreate abuelita’s recipe now have options of where to get them and do not depend solely on Hispanic supermarkets.
It puts Hispanic independents, including Mi Pueblo Foods in Northern California, at a crossroads of figuring out how to evolve alongside our consumers without losing the cultural identity we have fostered over the years. It’s a challenge that must be faced squarely and it starts with truly understanding that we have a new set of customers who embrace both their American and Hispanic heritage and lifestyles. They might remember going to our stores as kids with their parents to pick up fresh tortillas, but they are just as quick to throw an arrachera on the grill as they are a soybean burger.
It’s therefore imperative that we offer an authentic added value to our shoppers that they cannot find elsewhere. It’s virtually impossible for Hispanic independents to win the price wars against the superstores, so our point of differentiation must be the customer’s experience inside our doors. We need to continue focusing in the departments that make us unique — such as high-quality produce,counters with specialty cuts and bakeries with traditional treats — while expanding our product offerings to include the items our customers grew up with in the U.S.
Just as important is ensuring that our in-store technology and customer service excels and meets the expectations of our shoppers, whether they prefer to communicate with us in English or Spanish.
The Hispanic demographic will continue to evolve, so it’s up to Hispanic retailers to continue evolving with them.
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