Miami-Dade has a higher percentage of Hispanics -- roughly 60% -- than any other large county in the nation, according to the Beacon Council, Dade County's official economic development organization. While Cubans dominate in Miami-Dade, others from countries like Mexico, Honduras and Colombia are quickly moving to the area, though. Residents of Cuban ancestry are now roughly tied with non-Cuban Hispanics in population size.
For retailers, serving the Hispanic population means evolving to reflect the ever-broadening tastes, preferred brands and eating habits that newcomers bring from their countries of origin, whether they be in Central America and the Caribbean, South America or Europe.
Beyond the general foods that appeal to a pan-Latin palate, retailers must carry the items that appeal to Dominicans, with their taste for spicy food; Guatemalans, who favor stew; and Mexicans, with their penchant for moles and chili sauces. Demand for authenticity requires retailers to source the regional and national ethnic brands (or multinationals' ethnic versions) that Hispanics know from their country of origin.
As a recent store tour by SN showed, Cuban remains the reigning Hispanic culture, however. That's especially apparent in Hialeah, Miami-Dade's second-biggest city, and a busy industrial and commercial center that's home to a largely Hispanic community.
Common Cuban fare like crackers and chips are in large supply in grocery stores in their many forms, both in primary and secondary displays. There are the soda crackers that are eaten with cafe con leche, or, crushed varieties for breading. Plantain chips, often eaten as a snack or with a sandwich, are plentiful, too.
Shoppers also will find cassava bread -- a flat, thin cracker made from yucca flour that's popular in the Caribbean. Other Cuban staples like black beans and bottled mojo, or marinades, are widely merchandised, too.
In the stores SN visited, most Hispanic products were placed together within their larger category, although specialty and less common items tended to be housed in international aisles.
For the broadest selection of ethnic offerings, locals head to Sedano's Supermarkets, which a Food Marketing Institute study indicated is one of two primary stores shopped by first-generation Hispanic shoppers. The jewel of the market's leading independent chain is based in the Villaverde Shopping Center in Hialeah.
In this large, fairly new store, well-known American brands can be found, and the English-language aisle signs and bilingual circular speak to Sedano's dual audience. Ethnic brands, however, are front and center.
SN found during its February visit five shelves of galletas (cookies) that extended 20 feet in the cookie and cracker aisle. Local brands like Yeya, Chichi and Rika were plentiful.
Export soda crackers occupied three shelves stretching 10 feet, with plenty of 1-pound, 12-ounce canisters. They were followed by 15 feet of ethnic-brand wafers and crackers, followed by Pepperidge Farm, Breton, Keebler, and other non-Hispanic-brand cookies and crackers.
Sixteen feet of salty snacks ran opposite the soda aisle, including Mac's Snacks pork rinds, a product of Evans Food Products, Chicago; mariquitas, potato-chip thin plantain chips; and Chifles cassava chips made by Plantain Products of Tampa, Fla.
Secondary cracker displays were plentiful here, as elsewhere. Soda crackers were featured on at least two endcaps when SN visited. Near the checkout lanes stood at least nine racks holding snacks like plantain chips, potato sticks and pork cracklings in single-serve packages.
Other categories reflected the ethnic clientele. Twenty-pound bags of Rico, Iberia and Conchito rice were heaped on a large pallet display, as well as on shelves in the aisle.
Yucca took up much of an entire aisle of Hispanic-brand frozens. Next to it were frozen La Fe-brand tamales, tacos, burritos, aji and fruit pulps.
In addition to being the overall market leader, Publix is Miami's other primary chain retailer shopped by first-generation Hispanics, according to the FMI study. It's also one of the top two chains for acculturated Hispanics, a position Publix stands to strengthen when it converts two of its stores -- including one in Hialeah -- to a Hispanic format, and stocks them with its new private-label Hispanic line. The conversions were expected to take place in May.
At Publix's 1-year-old store on East 2nd Avenue at Hialeah Drive, five shelves of cookies and snacks stretched eight feet. The store had the ubiquitous export soda crackers in one-pound, 12-ounce canisters. Cookies and fried dough got secondary exposure in the cookie aisle and across from the refrigerated beer aisle. Snacks also were merchandised opposite beer, with 12 feet of ethnic-brand chips, pork cracklings and the like, and in secondary displays near the deli and prepared foods.
Another 12 feet of shelving held two-liter bottles and six- and 12-packs of Malta, Ambassador, Rica, Goya and Milca sodas and nectars.
Lower-volume products, including four feet of ethnic-brand jarred fruits and vegetables, were merchandised in an "Ethnic Foods" aisle that included West Indian, Jamaican, kosher and Asian items. Opposite it stood 12 feet of mostly Hispanic seasonings, cooking wines and marinades.
An endcap displayed ethnic-brand wines like Bacarles, a Spanish dessert wine; and three-liter bottles of Yago Sangria, the popular Spanish party wine.
Some aisle signs were bilingual, although the circular available was Publix's all-Spanish-language circular. The week of SN's visit, its front page included Cuban bread, Cafe Bustelo and 20-pound bags of Rico rice.
Among more acculturated Hispanic shoppers in Miami, Winn-Dixie was the other primary store, the FMI study found.
Winn-Dixie's store at the intersection of Miami and NW 57th Avenue in Hialeah, across from a Wal-Mart supercenter, has been through the chain's neighborhood market revamp. The result is a strong Hispanic flavor.
A 25-foot section of Hispanic-brand crackers filling five shelves was flanked by two conventional snack aisles. Another 16 feet had Hispanic-brand chips: La Estrella, Goya and Maria.
Most endcaps and secondary displays held ethnic products. One end aisle, topped with an imitation palm tree, held chips and crackers. Another display contained Conchita guava paste and Charras tostadas, part of a staple Cuban breakfast with cafe con leche.
Reflecting locals' love of snacks, racks of single-serve packages of yucca chips and fried dough were displayed by the registers. Bags of pork cracklings abutted a towering endcap display of 12-packs of the Dominican beer Presidente.
Next to the Coca-Cola and Pepsi products, a five-foot-long section of Hispanic-brand sodas was multinational in scope, with Inca Kola from Peru, Iron Beer from Cuba and Country Club from the Dominican Republic, to name a few. Down the aisle from sodas were eight feet of nectars, which also were displayed in the juice aisle.
As at other stores, this Winn-Dixie carved out part of an international aisle for specialty Hispanic products, along with kosher and Asian foods. In the Hispanic section of this aisle, SN found a wide array of food and nonfood categories in a mini-convenience store-like representation: crackers, sodas, spices, spreads, jarred fruits including baby coconut and palm, aji paste, vitamin supplements and soaps.
Hanging "School Rewards" signs were in English and Spanish. That week's (bilingual) circular gave two inside pages over to mostly Hispanic-brand Center Store products, such as Goya frozens, Siboney coconut water, La Lechera condensed milk and Rovira export soda crackers.
Wal-Mart is the top store of Hispanic Americans, with 36% naming it their favorite, according to a February telephone survey by NOP World, a unit of U.K.-based United Business Media. A visit to this Hialeah supercenter suggested Wal-Mart's appeal is based not just on price and selection, but its selection and merchandising of ethnic products and use of bilingual aisle signs.
Just inside the lobby, a case of hot, Cuban bread waits for shoppers to buy on their way out. Beyond the registers stands the produce section, with massive displays of limes, plantains and papayas. Samples of El Latino brand white cheese were offered in the dairy section that day. Coffin cases displayed large-size jugs of juice and punch. Hispanic-brand products have a major presence in the grocery aisles. Chips ran 12 feet on six shelves and included brands familiar to Miamians: Mambi Cuban pork cracklings and Chifles chips. Hispanic cookies and crackers filled a 25-foot section of five shelves, with well-known brands such as Bimbo and Goya.
Ethnic foods often led off and dominated other categories. Frozen yucca, plantains and corn on the cob under the El Sembrador name filled a frozen endcap display. In the aisle, El Sembrador had 13 facings of fruit pulp: mamey, mango, maracuya, guanabana and tamarind.
A coffee section led with a wide variety of Hispanic brands, including the popular Cuban brands Pilon and Cafe Bustelo, Cafe Rico Rico, El Pico and Cafe Estrella.
Wal-Mart also stocked a large number of global brand manufacturers' ethnic versions, among them McCormick sandwich spreads, Nestle table creams and Quaker Oats beverage mix.
*Metropolitan Statistical Area includes Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach counties, combined population 5.3 million.