By Sylvia Meléndez Klinger and Kate Brogan, Hispanic Food Communications Inc.
There are more than 55 million Hispanic consumers in the U.S. today, and the Hispanic population is expected to double by 2050.
According to Nielsen, Hispanics represent $1.5 trillion in buying power in 2015, an astonishing 50% increase since 2010. This is great news for convenience retailers—especially c-stores that offer diverse foodservice programs. That’s because Hispanics spend a higher percentage of income on food compared to the U.S. population as a whole.
Attracting and keeping Hispanic consumers is a smart growth strategy for c-store retailers. Successful marketing involves recognizing the diversity among Hispanics based on country of origin and level of acculturation, or the process of adapting to a new culture.
GROUPS AND FOOD
The Hispanic segment isn’t homogenous, so be careful not to generalize in your marketing plan. In the past, Hispanic marketing focused on language and translation of promotions into Spanish. This is a helpful first step, but truly effective marketing involves understanding regional differences between Hispanic subgroups that set them apart, not only in their food choices, but also in how they prepare their food every day.
Foods and flavors that are popular in Mexico may not appeal to Dominican or Puerto Rican consumers. Store managers should understand the origins of their Hispanic consumers and offer product mixes that appeal to regional tastes.
Despite regional differences, Hispanics often share core cultural values. Many retain core elements of the traditional Hispanic diet, with its heavy reliance on grains and beans as well as fruits and vegetables. Family life has traditionally occupied a pivotal place in Hispanic culture, which has influenced dietary behaviors: Hispanics value home cooking and family meals more highly than other ethnic groups.
Also, the contemporary diet of Hispanics is heavily influenced by their adopted communities. Hispanics who have lived in the U.S. for several generations are more likely to blend popular American foods with traditional Hispanic choices than more recent immigrants.
The following are some key points for c-store operators to keep in mind when trying to reach Hispanics in your community:
- Get to know your customers. Get to know your Hispanic community in your area. What is the dominant subgroup? Nearly 65% of Hispanics have origins in Mexico, followed by Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
Hispanics who were born outside the U.S. are more likely to retain the tastes and traditions of their home country than later generations. What is the prevalent socioeconomic situation? A deeper understanding of who your Hispanic consumer is lets you tailor your products and services more accurately.
- Provide cultural relevant messages. Create culturally relevant messages that resonate with Hispanics. For example, provide signs or promotional materials written specifically with Hispanics in mind, rather than a literal translation of English materials.
Reference culturally relevant food items they eat frequently, classic recipes and messages that move their hearts. Embrace their culture—watch Spanish TV, read their magazines, read and use their favorite cookbooks. And, it doesn’t hurt to learn a little Spanish to make them feel special and accepted.
- Respond to valued meal traditions. Since home-cooked meals are valued by Hispanic families, offer convenience foods that can become part of a home-cooked meal such as packaged sliced fresh vegetables or fruits, shredded cheese or cooked chicken. Herbs, spices or seasoning blends also appeal to the home cook. These products allow Hispanic consumers to maintain their meal traditions with ease.
- Build trust. Acknowledge and embrace cultural nuances and differences. Build trust by customizing messages and acknowledging challenges that many Hispanic consumers face such as lack of transportation, not being fluent in English or having trouble finding familiar food staples.
Learn about your customers’ diets and food habits so you can stock items that are commonly used in their diets. Hispanics are known for their brand loyalty, so ask customers which brands they prefer and try to stock products accordingly. These actions demonstrate respect for customers and help build trust.
- Create a gathering area. Many Hispanics enjoy eating together with family and friends. Offer a seating area with a few chairs and tables. This welcoming gesture builds a sense of community and will keep Hispanic consumers coming back to your c-store.
- Offer a variety of Hispanic foods. When planning inventory, include food items that reflect Hispanic consumers’ country of origin. Fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables are particularly popular with Hispanic consumers. Items that are considered healthy entrée options, such as chicken, are also popular.
For example, a variety of cold beverages from different countries, such as horchata, are sought by Puerto Ricans and Cubans, or agua fresca de Jamaica, sweet breads (pan dulce) and gelatins (gelatinas) can be great options for Mexican patrons. Also, carry favorite items prepared by local Hispanic vendors, such as tamales or burritos.
- Connect on a personal level. Provide superb personal service that is unmatched by any competitor and respect your customer regardless of their color and socioeconomic status. You can build trust by engaging with customers every day and getting to know their needs and wants to keep them coming back.
- Be patient. If Hispanics resist initial marketing efforts, it is probably because they are still building trust with you. Be persistent and continue to develop those cultural values that are important to Hispanic consumers.
Get creative when offering new food items: keep new items visible and let Hispanic consumers know you are stocking favorite items that they requested. Go the extra mile to cater to their needs.
- Ask for feedback. Encourage your Hispanic customers to provide feedback frequently and make sure to respond promptly. Actions speak louder than words.
The growing Hispanic market is evolving, and your ability to understand your local consumers can set you apart from the competition. If you are able to address the needs and wants of Hispanic consumers successfully, you can increase your share of a growing and valuable market segment.