How Hispanics Experience Grocery Shopping

02 Aug 2003|Felipe Korzenny

It catches everyone’s attention the fact that the current spending power of the US Hispanic market is around 600 billion dollars per year, and eyes move faster when they contemplate that it will be about one trillion in less than eight years from now. What most grocers have not yet mastered is how to maximize the grocery shopping experience for these profitable consumers. In areas of high Hispanic density the bottom line of grocery retailers can be greatly enhanced by knowing how to cater to this distinct cultural group.

It is true that not all Hispanics are the same and that preferences and tastes do vary by country of origin. Still there are considerations that make this market highly targetable:
– Over 65% of US Hispanics are of Mexican origin and are highly concentrated in California, Texas, Illinois, and now widely spreading to other areas. Puerto Ricans constitute about 10% of this segment and they are concentrated in the East Coast. Cubans make up about 4% of the market and they are still strongly represented in Florida, particularly Miami.
– Their tastes for groceries, as determined by country of origin, are well defined and identifiable.
– Hispanics in general tend to share a series of cultural dispositions that clearly define how they prefer to be served and treated. Also, their grocery shopping behaviors are relatively homogeneous and identifiable.
– Despite the popular belief that Hispanics mostly shop in small ethnic stores (known as “tienditas” in the West, and “bodegas” in the East), the reality is that most grocery shopping happens in supermarkets. The smaller stores are used for complementing cultural shopping needs that larger stores do not serve.
Let’s take the case of a grocery shopper of Mexican origin, since they represent the largest segment. These consumers, on average, have a profile that should be better attended to by grocers. Let me provide some examples:
– Cuts of meat: US Mexicans have the tradition of grilling thin slices of beef “carne asada” at cook-outs in backyards, parks, and beaches. This style of cut is rarely available in mainstream supermarkets and that is why these consumers need to go to a “carniceria” (small butcher shop) for this. Also, these consumers have special needs regarding pork for preparing “pozole” and “carnitas.” But as with “carne asada” these styles of pork meat are rarely found in supermarkets.
– Baked products: Few major supermarkets carry “pan dulce” Mexican style. These are the sweet rolls that Mexicans love to consume with hot chocolate or coffee in the morning and in the evening. The traditional bread styles “bolillo” and “telera” are very hard to find in general and particularly in supermarkets. Tortillas are becoming more commonplace, but freshly made tortillas are almost impossible to find in most locations.
– Soft drinks: Slowly increasing in visibility in large stores are brands such as Jarritos, Sangria Señorial, Sidral Mundet, and other Mexican favorites.
– Packaged hot peppers and sauces are also becoming more widely available. Still, traditional Mexican sauces like Bufalo and La Valentina are hard to find.
– Beauty products: Crema Nivea, Crema de la Campana, different types of “brillantinas” (brilliantine) are available only in very specialized stores.
– Cleaning products: Detergents such as 1-2-3 and Ariel, as well as many other preferred brands are frequently unavailable.
The list of examples can be quite extensive and includes most categories. These consumers do look for these products and when they can’t find them they have to make extra shopping trips. Would their shopping experience be more satisfactory if they could find most of their groceries in one place? The answer seems obvious.
But there is more than product availability to make the shopping experience compelling to US Hispanics. Most Hispanic adults prefer to communicate in Spanish when given the opportunity. However, finding clerks and cashiers that speak Spanish in supermarkets is not yet commonplace. In particular these consumers crave personal attention and service. They like asking questions and obtaining guidance as they shop for many items but particularly at the meat/seafood and deli counters, and at the bakery. Having the attitude and the language available to serve these consumers is fundamental to achieve success.
There are other aspects that are still evidently missing from many stores that could capitalize on this market. They include:
– Bilingual signage
– Point of sale materials suggesting uses and recipes that are culturally relevant to the consumer
– Entertainment for children, since the family is likely to go shopping as a group
– Produce and meat/seafood displays that resemble the open market where the enticing variety becomes a sensual experience
– Welcoming promotions and events that show that the grocer is truly interested in catering to this market
The moral of the story is that most grocers in areas that cater to Hispanics can dramatically enhance the shopping experience of these consumers, gain their loyalty, and keep more of their dollars. It just takes getting to know the consumer better!

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