What: For years, large chains have targeted Hispanics by adding a special aisle with select items from their home countries. These days, this approach can be a bit outdated. Here are some Hispanic grocery shopping insights, as diversity and globalization demand a more integrated approach.
Why it matters: Marketers are well aware that Hispanics are a huge consuming force that will only grow in time. It’s important to come up with ways to really cater to the community’s needs.

 

The Hispanic Cooking Rites

Us Latinos love our food. We love preparing it, we love planning it, we love buying fresh ingredients. Cooking and sharing is the ultimate family-bonding experience. Homemade meals are the first thing we miss when we’re away. We make them anywhere to feel at home. All these cultural traits not only make us great cooks, but also great produce and grocery shoppers. According to The State of the Plate, a 2015 Study on America’s Consumption of Fruits & Vegetables published by the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Hispanic grocery shoppers rank highest in produce consumption amongst 3 other ethnic groups (White/Non-Hispanics, Asians, and Black/Non-Hispanics).

There’s something all food marketers in the U.S. need to understand in order to cater to their Hispanic customers: From the moment the menu for a Hispanic table is conceived, every step of its preparation matters. Supermarkets appealing to the target can assert everything they must do to satisfy an ever-growing consumer base by being aware of the particularly ritualistic nature of Hispanic kitchens. Latinos love hand picking their food, buying enough ingredients to last for several meals, and trying out new ingredients on a permanent effort to enrich and expand their gastronomic experiences. But there’s one problem. Even though marketers are well aware that Hispanics are a consuming force, some have chosen to label and separate Hispanic (and generally ethnic) foods and products. This segregation rings counterintuitive and obsolete.

Finding the Balance Between Diversity and Globalization

Hispanics are widely diverse as a group. Every single Hispanic country has different ancestral dishes that require specific ingredients for their preparation. In addition, Millennials have been exposed to the culinary options of a globalized economy. This surely has an affect on traditional menus, even if Latino families have a specific and deep-rooted meal preparation routine.

Nearly six in ten Hispanics are Millennials or younger, according to Pew Research Center’s 2014 report, The Nations Latino Population is Defined by its Youth. 40% of American Millennials are multicultural, and more than half of this group are Latinos. As a global society would have it, we want to be able to make corn flour tortillas, but we want them filled with swiss cheese. According to The Why? Behind the Buy, a study conducted by Acosta Marketing and Univision in 2015, 57% of Hispanic Millennial Shoppers ages 25-34 say they often try new flavors/products.

 For years, the larger chains have catered to the Hispanic consumer (primarily) by adding an ‘Hispanic’ or ‘International’ aisle and placing select merchandise from Latin America. […] It is unclear if this format is successful.

Nothing more American than… Pizza?

As we have said before in other articles, foods that used to be foreign at some point, like pizza, sushi, and tacos, are such a big part of a global food culture that no one hardly ever questions their place in American households. These days, being able to find a wide variety of products from around the world is expected. In some cases it’s a given, because we live in a connected world in which boundaries are more blurry each day. As Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Growth Officer at Publicis Groupe, said to Portada in a recent interview, “An idea that is not aligned with the unstoppable trends of diversity and globalization is doomed from the start.”

How to Include a Niche

For a minority seeking inclusion, all manifestations of inclusion are welcome. Supermarkets could start by dropping the label “Hispanic groceries” to call them just groceries. Yet, many supermarkets have tried to cater to the Hispanic audience by adding “exclusive” sections with the products Latino audiences may find at home. “For years, the larger chains have catered to the Hispanic consumer (primarily) by adding an ‘Hispanic’ or ‘International’ aisle and placing select merchandise from Latin America […] Some of the largest, such as HEB in Texas, developed their Mi Tienda (My Store) format which is located in a high dense Hispanic neighborhood. A larger store than a neighborhood store. It is unclear if this format is successful” says Randy Stockdale, director of Solex Marketing Solutions.

Problem is, inclusive as this effort may appear at first glance, Latinos already comprise 17% of the total American population. Inserting a Hispanic section surrounded by aisles of  “non-Hispanic” products might end up falling short for this ever-growing segment. “I don’t subscribe to a Hispanic aisle”, says Stockdale. “I would rather see the stores, particularly the larger chains, place like-items together and provide a greater convenience. Have you ever found Goya Olives in the general Olives section? Likely not.” Think of it this way: limiting their space is also limiting their consumption to one tiny section of an entire store.

Frozen Hispanic

In July 2017, a tweet got viral because one man saw the mockery potential of a supermarket freezer labeled “Frozen Hispanic.” He decided to pose as just that… a frozen Hispanic. The tweet got 152,278 retweets of people that didn’t see the need to separate frozen tamales from frozen chicken wings. Supermarkets would greatly profit from including Hispanic products without differentiation. It’s been proven that Hispanic consumers are generally willing to try new, different things.

An Emotional Connection

Brands like Jarritos spark the joy of feeling represented and identified while being abroad. Many people immediately purchase products that make them feel homesick when they’re abroad. This speaks of the great importance of having a supermarket experience that appeals not only to your needs, but to your emotions, comfort zone, and memories of home.

And just like it would at home the store needs to feel just like any other supermarket with staple sections. In Canadian supermarkets, for example, diversity is tangible all around. A variety of multicultural shoppers experience all kinds of international foods available to everyone. Anyone can add tzatziki, udon noodles, and jasmine-infused rice pudding to their shopping basket.

Just as the world’s boundaries are thinner, the gaps between demographic segments are narrower. We want to connect to our heritage, but we don’t want to feel isolated by it. We all want to feel human. So, if including a separate Hispanic grocery section on the supermarket is no longer a viable option, what is? How to attract Hispanics and make them feel welcome and included while strongly driving purchase intention? The answer lies in the power of emotions.

What Should Supermarkets Do, Then?

 In short? “Enhance their joy of shopping”, conclude Acosta and Univision on The Why? Behind the Buy. Perhaps general retailers could learn a thing or two from Hispanic grocery concept supermarkets like Northgate González Markets. The chain not only features an in-store tortillería, carnicería, and cocina, but that also offers children cooking classes and a gift certificate upon completing six lessons.

Or Fiesta Mart in Texas, offering a variety of fresh, organic, locally sourced produce with a side of social community programs to educate children and help feed the hungry. “I would not say [larger chains] are not doing a good job,” says Randy Stockdale. “They are trying at least. But, I would state that the larger chains should provide a friendlier-Hispanic atmosphere and improved merchandise. I am a strong proponent of bilingual in-store signage where the store is high-Hispanic density”. Therefore, the wisest move is to be inclusive and open-minded in both directions.

Both Fiesta Mart and Northgate Gonzalez are on the other side of the spectrum. Just as there are Hispanic aisles, there are entire stores that focus on the Hispanic community. But this doesn’t mean the general market should not come. There’s no reason to separate minorities, communities are not separate anymore. Everyone is welcome because everyone is from everywhere. No man is an aisle.

 

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Janet has worked as editor and translator since 2013. After graduating with honors when receiving her Bachelor's Degree in English literature, she began working as a book reviewer for Expansión, the leading business magazine in Mexico. She has also worked as editor of young adult literature for publishing houses like Planeta and Penguin, and she's the author of a book of short stories. She's in the process of getting her MA in English at McGill University. Her interests include arts, good food, and her 8 pets.

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