If you don’t know them already, this is a group of consumers you’ll want to know better. As the largest minority group in the US, Hispanic consumers purchasing power is estimated to reach more than $1.2 trillion by 2012. Companies both large and small are recognizing a consumer for whom food is a symbol of love. “El amor entra por la cocina — Love enters by the kitchen.”
General Mills, Minneapolis, MN, is one of the latest consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies to initiate a focus on multicultural consumers. “African-American and Hispanic moms are 40% of the mothers that we are talking to now,” said Ken Powell, president and c.e.o., General Mills. “We are spending significantly more money against those consumers, and that demographic is outpacing our average growth right now.”
While catering to Hispanic consumers may be largely unchartered territory for many larger CPG manufacturers, companies such as Rudolph Foods, Lima, OH, long ago recognized the potential of the Hispanic market. In 1955, Rudolph Foods purchased San Antonio, TX-based Pepe’s, a producer of pork rinds. The acquisition transformed the company into one known primarily for its pork rinds. Using observation, focus groups from its top Hispanic markets and input from employees, the company strives to produce an authentic product that is regionally relevant to its consumers.
Observation of street carts selling chicherones (pork rinds) in Mexico prompted Rudolph Foods to introduce its chicherones with hot sauce packets included. The hot sauce is spread on the pork rinds inside the bag and shaken.
“With a forecast of a 20% population growth, this is an important group to listen to,” said Mark Singleton, vice-president of sales and marketing, Rudolph Foods. “This is a loyal and sophisticated consumer, and if you just ask, they will tell you exactly what they want.”
Because of the high-protein content, chicherones are often purchased to be consumed as a food item, rather than just a snack, according to Mr. Singleton. Following the low-carb craze, Rudolph Foods polled its Hispanic consumers for their awareness of health and wellness. The company was pleased to find its focus groups had absorbed the message that pork rinds can be a good source of protein, with more protein than the same size serving of peanuts.
Product is often purchased in larger package sizes so it can be shared. The company also produces a less-expensive pork rind alternative, a puffed wheat product. The extruded snack, which sometimes resembles bacon, is also popular with members of Brazilian communities.
“As Hispanics acculturate, their core values remain, but new versions or applications of these values evolve,” according to Mintel’s report, Hispanic Acculturation Process. “Understanding influences from the culture of origin that are different from US culture and the influences that are similar, based on acculturation levels, is the most relevant way of reaching and influencing the diverse Hispanic market.”
Level of acculturation will determine language preferences, purchasing behavior, household income and core values within the group. Ruiz Foods of Dinuba, CA, recognized the process also results in less time to prepare traditional meals from scratch. As those consumers adopt a more Americanized lifestyle, they look for easy-to-prepare foods that remind them of home. For three generations, the company has offered a variety of frozen foods including enchiladas, burritos, taquitos, tamales, chimichangas, quesadillas and cruncheros.
“As the Latino population acculturates, the culture exchange accelerates,” said Bryce Ruiz, president and c.e.o., Ruiz Foods. “The Latino, just as any immigrant culture, will begin to experiment with different flavor profiles and different textures. At the same time, their acculturation will introduce them to the benefits these profiles and textures offer.”
Ruiz Foods’ El Monterey brand extended its XXL frozen burrito line with a new Jalapeño & Bean variety. The hearty 10-oz burrito is individually packaged for quick and easy consumption and is available in a variety of filling and seasoning choices, spicy or mild, and with cheese or without.
Although frozen foods offer convenience, typically it will not replace traditional in-home preparation for many Hispanic consumers. Mintel reported that Hispanics believe that if food is not fresh or somewhat warm, it is not considered food.
Still, traditional foods that provide consumers with a shortcut to homemade options continue to grow in popularity with busy consumers. Azteca Milling, Irving, TX, tweaked its best-selling Selecta all-purpose, enriched wheat flour to make it more user-friendly for acculturated US consumers. Widely available in Mexico, the Selecta line now includes a tortilla mix designed to make wheat flour tortillas at home.
In the quickand-easy equation, health cannot be left out. Hispanics possess increased proclivity for diet-related issues including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Manufacturers willing to provide healthier products with the familiarity of traditional foods will continue to find a greater following.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys found that the Hispanic population carries additional risk factors for childhood obesity because of parental obesity, low socioeconomic status, recent immigration, acculturation to US diet and lifestyle and limited health insurance coverage. Hispanics have a lower population age than the national average, 26.7 vs. the national aver- age of 35.9, more parents will be interested in teaching health habits for a lifetime.
In 2008, Mission Foods, Irving, TX, reformulated the staple tortilla with fewer additives and more natural ingredients, replacing the tortilla’s traditional refined flour and lard recipe. This simple update resulted in skyrocketing sales, through minimal marketing assistance.
For those consumers with allergen sensitivities, Food For Life, Corona, CA, introduced sprouted organic corn tortillas. Made with freshly sprouted 100% organic whole-kernel corn, the masa is produced without flour, yeast or baking powder.
To assist acculturated Hispanic consumers, Oldways, a nonprofit group in Boston, MA, created the Latino Nutrition Coalition (LNC) to combat diet-related disease among the US Latino population. LNC’s message provides guidance through education and habit modification with a focus on the positive aspects of food — a significant bond throughout Latino communities. The message is illustrated with a Latin American Diet Pyramid and Camino Mágico (Magic Road) supermarket shopping guide. A bilingual guide, distributed in grocery stores, community centers, health communities and churches, combines food information and healthy recipes using LNC member products. The recipes emphasize traditional foods made with healthier preparations.
LNC and its member companies capitalize on the nostalgia of being Latino by creating products both traditional and familiar. This nostalgia is tempered by the need facing all consumers to manage the demands of life while providing themselves and their families sustaining, nutritious foods. The importance of appealing to consumers through family eating oc- casions cannot be overemphasized.
The desire for authentic ethnic flavors also extends beyond a purely Hispanic market. According to the Food Flavors and Ingredients Outlook 2009 report from Packaged Facts, consumer interest in experiencing new ethnic cuisines and flavors is expected to continue, reflecting the growth of ethnic populations and evolving mainstream tastes. One mainstream example is Trader Joe’s Mexican Hot Cocoa cookies. The producer of private-label products is meeting a demand for clean-label products and exotic flavors.
Producers of breakfast and children’s items can also note the popularity of ethnic-inspired flavors among restaurant diners, according to a survey by the National Restaurant Association this year.
The taste palates of acculturated Hispanic consumers also continue to influence higher-end eating experiences. Terra Chips, a division of The Hain-Celestial Group, Boulder, CO, produces a line of root vegetable and potato chips. Developed by professional chefs, the company recently introduced Terra a la Mexicana Exotic Vegetable Chips. According to Jeannette Cornell, senior brand manager of snacks, The Hain-Celestial Group, Hispanic consumers over-index with Terra Chip products because of their familiarity with more exotic root vegetables. “The intention behind the name is to invoke a sense of place,” Ms. Cornell said. The trans-fat-free chips feature a blend of roasted garlic, black bean and tomato flavors.
Companies such as Van de Vries Spice Corp., East Brunswick, NJ, offer manufacturers a number of Hispanic-influenced spice and seasoning formulations. Van de Vries supplies a continually expanding library of more than 6,000 formulations, including Hispanic-influenced chipotle, spicy salsa, jalapeño and guacamole flavors. Custom-blended formulations are also available.
Whether through foods, textures or flavors, the influence and impact of the Hispanic consumer can be widely experienced. Manufacturers of Hispanic-inspired foods can appeal to a growing audience as well as meet the desire for ethnic flavors among crossover mainstream tastes.
“Ultimately, all Hispanics live, work and shop in a multigenerational, bilingual and multicultural environment ,” said Loida Rosario, director partner relations multicultural program, DePaul University. “When analyzing Hispanics’ behavior it is best to first focus on the differences between Hispanics and non-Hispanics, so that these differences can be understood and explored as opportunities for new products, new markets or tailored marketing messages. Only then will marketers be able to uncover similarities that leverage investment dollars.”