¡Que bueno! This year marked the second consecutive Expo West to feature an educational session on the fastest growing U.S. demographic: Latinos and Hispanics. According to the 2010 census, the U.S. Hispanic population surged 43 percent in the past decade and now tops 50 million, or 1 out of every 6 Americans, and could comprise 30 percent of the total population by 2030.
Retailers, manufacturers, editors, and other industry insiders gathered at Expo West 2011 for insights on how the natural products industry can address the needs of and learn from our Spanish-speaking neighbors, offered by Flor Lozano of Synergia, a Hispanic-focused consulting group, and Martin Lopez, CEO of Herbs of Mexico, a 50-year-old Hispanic retail operation in Los Angeles. (View their Expo West presentations.)
How does a Hispanic approach to wellness differ from the mainstream?
Although Hispanic and mainstream consumers share a desire for wellness, these two groups’ values do differ. According to Lozano, Hispanics focus more on tradition, spirituality, and authenticity in their quest for wellness as it intimately relates to their everyday lives, while mainstream customers tend to approach wellness more as an ideal state to adopt or achieve. Hispanics’ motives in considering and buying natural products, she said, are “to prevent illness and to preserve the rich and traditional flavors” familiar in their cuisine. “Herb and folk remedies,” she said, “are handed down through generations and remain an important aspect of Hispanic culture in the U.S.”
Furthermore, traditional remedies are often tried prior to seeking out a physician’s assistance. She shared a personal example: When her father ran out of his prescription cholesterol medication while visiting her in Texas, he insisted that all he needed was to find a source of canary seed (alpiste) – a best-selling, traditional Hispanic remedy for high cholesterol. (Last year, Lopez told me that canary seed was Herbs of Mexico’s number-one seller.)
Do age or bilingual labeling affect purchasing?
Differences emerge, too, between first-generation Latinos and their more assimilated offspring. The younger generation of Latino consumers is motivated “to eat well and take care of [their] family,” says Lozano; the older generation is more vested in retaining their cultural traditions, with “cooking from scratch” considered an expression of love. (How great is that?) Latina and Hispanic women tend to shop more frequently, and they are very interested in fresh, natural ingredients familiar to their families and cultures.
For both groups, bilingual packaging is a plus … but, says Lopez, English should be the dominant language “because English is perceived as more authoritative and legitimate when it comes to health products.” In addition, packaging that displays the actual ingredient and/or the physical system it's designed to address (for example, the heart or brain) appeal to this demographic.
Not surprisingly, one similarity crosses cultural lines: Low prices capture shoppers’ attention. Both presenters maintained that, like anyone else, Hispanics look for affordable prices when shopping for foods and natural products. If a store can offer well-known foods from a Hispanic/Latino countries (think chayote, nopales, jicama, yucca, achiote) at a good price, all the better.
Low-price warehouses and stores like Costco and Walmart should take note: There’s a great opportunity to reach out to Latino consumers with targeted approaches, including Mexican food and cooking demos, bilingual circulars and coupons, and special deals on Hispanic ingredients.
Show the love
One of the most pertinent insights shared by both Lozano and Lopez centered on the need for natural products retailers and manufacturers to genuinely connect with their Hispanic neighbors, first by understanding who their customers are (younger or older? assimilated or first-gen? Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, South American?) and second, by “walking the walk” with them. Those companies and stores that invest in neighborhood life – that become part of the community rather than remaining an outsider – build long-lasting trust, or “confianza," a term that implies mutual respect and benefit, says Lopez.
To serve and learn from their Hispanic customers, retailers can sponsor healthy cooking competitions, participate in community health clinics and festivals, fund scholarships for enterprising Hispanic college students, offer bilingual in-store health screenings, even sponsor a local athletic team. “This is a mind, body, and spirit-centered group,” said Lopez, “so show the love.”