CHICAGO -- Food marketers are more aware that Hispanic consumers' eating patterns vary widely not only by their cultural roots, but also by their level of acculturation.
Supervalu's recent creation of Carlita, a new Hispanic signature brand, represents the kind of exercise companies are undergoing with that diversity in mind.
Craig Espelien, director of store brands for the Eden Prairie, Minn.-based wholesaler/retailer, described at Food Marketing Institute's annual show last week how Supervalu determined who its target audience should be and how to tailor a product line to that group.
Speaking publicly for the first time about the new line of Center Store products, Espelien said Supervalu felt it would be the most successful by targeting acculturating and acculturated Hispanics and non-Hispanics with a Tex-Mex brand first.
The goal was to appeal to non-Hispanics, while staying true to the way acculturating Hispanics eat. During a 28-month period from conception to launch, the company talked to 200 consumers and assigned 12 employees to the project, and worked with Daymon Worldwide, the store-brand sales and marketing firm, and a branding company.
- Brand. It decided to go with a signature brand after consumers said packages bearing the name of one of its banners "cheapened the product in our eyes," Espelien said. The logo and name Carlita, meanwhile, evoked with consumers the tradition, family and femininity important in Mexico's food culture.
- Taste. Though it chose a Tex-Mex flavor palate, Supervalu toned down the hot and spicy quotient to better appeal to consumers in its northern markets.
- Packaging. In testing, earth tones were No. 1 among Hispanics; bright colors made the product look too American.
- Price. Supervalu diverged from its usual "private-label approach," Espelien said. "We realized we didn't have to give the product away, but it needed to come in at a price that was competitive."
Supervalu rolled out the Carlita line in its banners in the first quarter of 2005, with a marketing campaign that included in-store radio, point-of-purchase materials, lobby signs with recipes and teaser ads. Products include taco kits, green chilies, jalapenos, refried beans and diced tomatoes.
Supervalu plans to expand the line with the addition of sauces, taco shells, dinner kits, flavors of existing products and dinner kits.
The company also is looking at products aimed at unacculturated Hispanics, such as corn oil and dry beans and rice. The working title: Carlita Authentica. After that, it plans to look at products that appeal to people of other regions, such as Puerto Rico and Cuba, Espelien said.
Supervalu's findings mirrored those of ethnic marketing consultants like Karla Fernandez Parker, who shared the stage with Espelien. Parker said Hispanic shoppers generally fall into one of three categories, ranging from the least acculturated, who shop often and cook from scratch with fresh ingredients and ethnic brands, to those who blend scratch and convenience cooking, to those who regularly take shortcuts using canned and frozen goods and are starting to adopt American and store-brand products.
"The market is not one-size-fits-all," she told SN. "Because of lifestyle and acculturation levels, they vary in their cooking and their approach to cooking. At the end of the day, how people are using fresh products is related to the whole idea of how they cook."
Retailers want to carry products to serve their ethnic shoppers, but often lack that level of detail about them, Hector Muniz, business development manager for Tampa, Fla.-based Millbrook Distribution Services, an ethnic and specialty product distributor, said in an interview.