NEW YORK -- Retailers would benefit by increasing offerings for the Asian-American consumer, one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States, according to Saul Gitlin, executive vice president of strategic services at advertising firm Kang & Lee, based here.
Accounting for 3.6% of the total population in 2000, or 10.2 million individuals, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Asian-American consumer is highly educated, tends to have a large family, and represents one of the most affluent households, particularly in urban areas like New York, Gitlin told SN.
"I think the mainstream supermarkets are gradually realizing that in key areas of the country -- notably clustered around the two coasts and specific cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles -- they need to start reaching out to Asians. They need to start including new types of products on the shelf to attract [them]," he said.
Ways to reach this shopper, Gitlin pointed out, include the use of bilingual, in-store signs and hiring a staff that speaks the most predominant Asian language in the area. Making sure a store's product mix includes items that are considered basic staples, as well as some of the vegetables, fruits, seafood and meats more inclined for the Asian palate, will also help draw customers.
Town and Country Markets, Seattle, has had success following these exact guidelines, and makes customer service a main priority in its Asian market-within-a-market sections, which occupy 200 linear feet, Mitchell Uyeno, Asian market manager, told SN.
"Customer service [is] the only way you are going to be able to get people to try new products. I can't stress that enough," Uyeno said. "Almost anytime during the day you will find [an employee] in that department because it's a unique department compared to your regular grocery store."
All staff members working in the Asian market section speak either Chinese or Vietnamese, and are trained to not be afraid to open a package so a consumer can sample what is inside. The six-store chain, which operates three units under the Central Market banner, stocks dry grocery items like rice, cooking sauces, sweet chili sauces, tofu and frozen potstickers and edamame, as well as produce, seafood and meats targeted to the Asian consumer.
As always, location is paramount. Uyeno found the rise of local traffic combined with his store's plentiful Asian offerings have led consumers to stop in more frequently as a matter of convenience rather than taking the time to drive to his region's Chinatown area.
Gitlin said he thinks the same phenomena could take place on the East Coast if retailers step up to the plate.
"The [supermarkets] that are well saturated in the New York area have to understand that Asians represent 10% of the population in the five boroughs of New York. Within the greater metropolitan area, the designated marketing area, they are 7% of the population. The needs of these consumers should be addressed to [compel] them to come," Gitlin said.