Chicken feet and fish heads. Oxtail and tripe Sophisticated retailers are meeting the meat demands of specific ethnic groups by merchandising and marketing a wider variety of beef, chicken and pork cuts that cater to their shoppers’ cultural culinary needs.
A select few retailers stock whole slabs in walk-in coolers (see photo, below left), cutting each item to specification. Many meat departments precut slabs into pieces for use in common ethnic fare. Some even showcase signs, on-pack messages and recipes written in multiple languages to communicate the product and use clearly to all customers.
At Publix Sabor stores, there is a high density of Hispanic and Caribbean shoppers in search of meat products used in traditional recipes from their homelands. Pigs’ feet, tripe, goat and oxtail are among the top sellers there.
The types and cuts of meat customers request vary from one ethnic group to another, according to Maria Brous, spokesperson for the Lakeland, Fla.-based chain.
“We carry large slabs of beef for customers who want them cut to specification. Some just ask for steaks, but others want meat cubes for stew or ground beef for things like tacos and Cuban picadillo,” said Brous. “People from Caribbean islands often buy whole fish for grilling or baking and fish heads for soups.”
Trends at Publix Sabor are similar to those in other supermarkets throughout the country. During the period from May 2011 to April 2012, tail, tripe and tongue were top sellers in U.S. supermarkets, according to data from FreshLook Marketing Group, Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Peak beef sales occurred during June, September and various cultural holidays. Pork products that sold well during the same period include tail, tongue and tripe, with peak sales of these items occurring during the fourth quarter — October through December.
Brous stated that each Publix Sabor store carries a different assortment of meat and seafood items to meet the demands of its unique blend of shoppers. The chain’s staff frequently honors requests for even more meats not typically stocked there as well.
“Offering the products our customers want is important, but so is training employees to tend to all customers’ needs, going the extra mile to ensure that they have access to any type of meat they might want,” she said. “We also educate our meat department employees so they can share their expertise with customers. As a retailer, we’ll sell more meat if we can help people understand what it is and how to cook it.”
Educating employees is indeed crucial, said Danette Amstein, principal, Midan Marketing, Chicago. Amstein believes that department managers in particular must have a firm grasp on the precise demographic of consumers shopping their stores.
It is not enough to simply know the nationality of local shoppers, she said. Retailers should consider whether customers are first-, second- or third-generation immigrants. Amstein also suggests that employees learn about their customers’ traditions, including which holidays their shoppers honor and when they are celebrated.
“Most first-generation Hispanics, for instance, are more comfortable shopping at a bodega or carniceria because they are merchandised like meat stores in their homelands,” she said. “Supermarkets in areas with a lot of first-generation immigrants could benefit from creating a meat department that mimics the meat markets common to their customers’ cultures.”
Second- and third-generation Hispanic immigrants are more accustomed to shopping in American stores, and therefore, don’t require such extensive setups, she added.