Natural Foods Merchandiser

Meet today's Latino shoppers

Population growth among the Latino community is so explosive that some demographers predict it could match the pace of the 1950s and 1960s baby boom by 2050. It’s currently growing at least three times faster than the rest of the population, and Latinos are 11 years younger, on average, than the nation’s median age of 35, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Latino community undoubtedly has the greatest opportunity for income growth and it already asserts much of that power through significant spending—to the tune of $951 billion annually. That figure is expected to skyrocket to more than $1.2 trillion by 2015. The nation’s Latinos also outspend non-Hispanics in consumer packaged goods by 13 percent, according to Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm. But supplements and natural foods companies have not traditionally done a good job tapping into this market.

“The Hispanic woman shopper is the poster child for fresh,” says Armando Martin, a retail consultant and founding partner of XL Edge, a Denver-based marketing firm that connects its clients with ethnic consumers. “This woman goes to the store [daily] because she is cooking fresh. There will be those marketers out there who try to marginalize the Hispanic, saying they are trying to reach ‘a more quality shopper.’ But if you have a propensity to avoid the [Hispanic] market, you will have a propensity to try to grow with a [nonethnic] market—at a time when white America is shrinking. The Latina buys more per trip and shops more frequently, so what’s the hesitation? She is your best shopping prospect.”

Knowing your customer
Esther Franklin, executive vice president and director of cultural identities for Chicago-based Starcom MediaVest Group, a brand communications and consumer contact firm, says there is room for natural products retailers to gain a portion of the Hispanic market share. But when developing long-term, profitable and meaningful relationships within the Hispanic community, retailers must consider the following:

  • The Latino community is very diverse. U.S. Hispanics can be of practically any nationality and race.
  • Latino populations possess significant differences that must be taken into account when designing programs for Hispanic outreach.
  • Language is a key factor. But many companies trying to reach Latinos make the mistake of taking their already-created public relations programs and marketing campaigns and simply translating them into Spanish. Franklin says this doesn’t work because cultural nuance, relevance and context matter.

“It is critical to understand the differences among Hispanic groups in order to establish strong brand bonds and compel consumers to integrate goods and services into their everyday lives,” Franklin says. “The key is in how the groups are defined. If the groups are defined by variables that have little human meaning, then selling approaches will be less effective. When groups are defined by variables that are meaningful to the way they live their lives as people, then approaches designed to affect their behavior as consumers will be more engaging and will stand a better chance.

“Above all, you must know who your consumers are and how they wish to engage with your brand,” she says.

Speaking the language
While Franklin says cultural nuances matter more than language preference, or even how long or where Latinos have lived in the United States, retailers should still think about these factors. On a very basic level, retailers should consider two dominant segments when trying to reach the Latino community: recent immigrants and first-generation Latinos—who should be addressed primarily in Spanish but provided bilingual messaging—and the larger segment of long-term residents and their descendants, who should be targeted in English.

But English-language marketing geared for the general American population won’t resonate with bilingual or English-speaking Latinos. There has to be an effort to understand this community and take into account historical, social and cultural factors. Language tends to be very emotional for this segment of the community. Many Latinos in this subgroup support monolingual Spanish speakers. But they don’t expect to be lumped into that group. This does not necessarily mean communication to both groups should be bilingual. Third-generation Latinos, for example, do not need to be targeted in Spanish and some may resent it, but they do expect to see some cultural nuances they can relate to. On a basic level, consider including Hispanic faces in advertising and promotions.

Nueva Cocina Foods, a Latino-owned business, focuses on second-generation Latinos and beyond. The Miami-based producer of more than a dozen natural foods, distributed in 6,000 stores, makes the fastest-growing segment of the population its main priority and, therefore, has a steady stream of new customers.
“We target people who grew up on this food,” says Lisa Schuster, Nueva Cocina’s marketing director. “We realize there is a consumer still cooking from scratch, so we put more into the second and third generations, who don’t have the time or may not have the skills to cook the type of food they grew up with. That’s the generation in the natural foods movement that is growing and learning to stay away from harmful ingredients.”

Latinos online
Don’t make the mistake of thinking the digital divide is so big that Latinos are not using the Internet.

Franklin says 49 percent of all Hispanics surf the Web. About 64 percent of Latinas ages 18 to 49 are online, and 15 million Hispanics age 18 and older spend about 88 minutes a day on the Internet, 21 days each month.

An Ipsos poll also shows that 79 percent of Hispanics use the Internet to research products before purchasing them, and 53 percent buy something online at least once a month. Franklin and XL Edge’s Martin agree that the Internet must be part of retailers’ marking strategy to reach Hispanics. Because the Latino community is made up of so many young people, retailers should also consider online social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter.

Still confused?
Hire marketing and public relations professionals who understand the community, says Martin, or at least make an effort to place people of color in higher-ranking positions. Targeting Hispanics just makes sense. And it’s not as daunting as it seems.

“Have a sustainable initiative,” he advises. “Get executives who look, sound and shop like Latinos.”

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