The magnitude of opportunity available to food companies that successfully market to the Latino consumer population was presented at Sabor in America, an all-day marketing event sponsored by Symrise, a global flavoring company. Sabor is the Spanish word for flavor.

Presenters at the event held at the Astor Center in New York balanced the potential for market gains with numerous pitfalls that have made the U.S. Hispanic population a tempting but elusive target to food manufacturers for many years.

Succinctly making the case at the outset for a Hispanic-focused event was Manuel Laroche, vice-president of market and sensory consumer insights for Symrise North America. Mr. Laroche, who served as moderator for Sabor in America, shared data underscoring a well-known fact — that the Hispanic population is the most rapidly growing ethnic demographic in the United States. Citing Nielsen data, Mr. Laroche said the U.S. population of Hispanics is expected to grow 167% between 2010 and 2050. Over this same period, the population of Caucasian non-Hispanics is expected to increase by 1%.

“As the proportion of Hispanic families with middle class incomes grows, marketers can no longer ignore them,” Mr. Laroche said. “The number of families earning $50,000 per year or more in the Hispanic community is growing faster than the population overall.”

At the same time, Mr. Laroche warned against a “one-size-fits-all” approach to marketing to Hispanics.

Underscoring the diversity embedded within the community, Mr. Laroche said Hispanics have emigrated to the United States from 20 different countries. Two thirds of the total, though, have come from Mexico. He said Puerto Rico accounts for 9% of the U.S. Hispanic population; Cuba, 4%; El Salvador, 3.2%; and the Dominican Republic, 3%.

Even ahead of the growth anticipated by 2050, Latinos “already have significantly changed the U.S. landscape” of the U.S. market, said Barbie M. Casasus, senior director and consumer strategist for Iconoculture, New York. She said Hispanics account for 17% of the U.S. population, 56% of population growth between 2000 and 2010, number 53 million individuals, and represent $1.2 trillion in purchasing power.

In food, beverage and popular culture, Hispanics are having wide ranging impact, from salsa, dulce du leche and guava to music and sports.

Breaking down Latinos by level of acculturation, Ms. Casasus described an “incredible shift” toward U.S. dominance and away from Hispanic dominance. Among baby boomers, 43% are characterized as bicultural and 43% as U.S. dominant (with the balance, 16%, as Hispanic dominant), but Gen We Hispanics are 51% U.S. dominant and 46% bicultural (only 3% Hispanic dominant).

She described bicultural as reflective of a “duality” experienced by most Hispanics today.

“Hispanics feel empowered by the idea that identity is not an ‘either-or’ proposition,” she said, adding that few Hispanics view themselves as “Latino targets.”

“This creates some real problems from a marketing perspective,” she said. “I said it’s not an either-or proposition, but most marketers are targeting Latinos in a very obvious or surface kind of way. Latinos don’t necessarily want to be called out as different. They just want to be acknowledged in the language they speak.

“This sense of empowerment is around the idea ‘I don’t have to choose,’ ‘I don’t have to be Latino or American,’” she said. “‘I can be whatever is right at this moment. Right for how I parent my children. Right for how I connect with my peers. It’s also manifesting itself in how they allow society and marketers to define them.”

She said Latinos are “pushing back” against obvious attempts to define them rather than “really understanding what moves them beneath the surface.” Instead of paying homage to cultural heritage, the challenge for marketers is understanding why Hispanics think about food in a certain way and why the social dynamic around food is important to them.

“Food can be an area where you can very easily stereotype this population,” Ms. Casasus said.

Emphasizing family values as key for marketers, Ms. Casasus said “collectivism is very central to the Hispanic experience.”

“These are people who value the connections they have, particularly to the people they love,” she said. “Family is incredibly important. Relationships and friendships elevates to the place of family.”

With this emphasis, children are “front and center” in the Hispanic culture, Ms. Casasus said.

“All members of the family are focused on the happiness and well being of children,” she said. “It isn’t just about the child requesting a certain cereal; it is about that child being a gateway into the outside world, into the mainstream.”

While Latino and non-Latino families share many values in common, placing family and loyalty atop the values chart, Latinos place authenticity as the third highest value (versus ninth for non-Latinos) and equality as fifth (tenth for non-Latinos).

The latter value reflects that “these are minorities that are victimized and ill-represented,” Ms. Casasus said.

Turning more specifically to eating, Ms. Casasus described food as “central to the Latino home and lifestyle” and said “abundance” describes what Latinos are looking for — abundance in flavor, variety and portion.

Describing values of Hispanic women when it comes to food, Ms. Casasus cited pride as an important one.

“The Latina sees herself as an expert, as a foodie,” she said. “Not because it’s a trend, but because she always has been that way. She takes pride in her knowledge.”

While Hispanics are disproportionately affected by health issues associated with eating, flavor and taste continues to “trump everything,” including wellness, Ms. Casasus said. She said there is only gradual change in attitudes that traditionally equate a chubby child with a healthy child. She said many Hispanic mothers view as a “personal attack” an intimation that obesity is caused by what she feeds her children.

Looking at day-parts, Ms. Casasus described breakfast as still very important in the Hispanic family as is the case for dinner as well. She described the latter meal as critical to family bonding.

Even as Hispanic eating is among the most dynamic segments in food today with many shifting trends around the role of “authentic” in Hispanic food in the home, “there is still an important place for tradition,” Ms. Casasus said. “The home is a cultural haven for Hispanic consumers.”

Offering a review of best practices, Ms. Casasus said private label manufacturers have done a better job connecting with Hispanic shoppers and have gained market share as a result. Some examples:

•Duane Reade — “They understand the diversity of the people entering into their stores,” she said. “They really made an effort to understand what motivates people when they come. They took those cues to inform the ways the reformatted their entire stores.”

•Beech-Nut and Goya — “This is a great one,” Ms. Casasus said. “The Hispanic consumer understands the power they hold in this country. And it isn’t just about capturing me with the colors on your label or that you have Spanish. It’s about how you use flavor. That’s something Beech-Nut and Goya are doing very well.”

She cited another manufacturer that unsuccessfully introduced a Hispanic oriented line several years earlier.

“They pigeonholed consumers,” she said. “They don’t want to be called out as different. They want to be acknowledged for the things that make them unique. Goya is really trusting that it is the ingredients and not the gimmicks in the marketing that will attract the consumer.”