While Hispanic food shoppers offer a rich opportunity for food marketers and retailers, they also present a potentially bewildering set of challenges. As highlighted in the “Hispanic Food Shoppers in the U.S.” report from market research publisher Packaged Facts, the in-store behavior of Hispanic food shoppers is the product of a complex interplay among a range of factors. These include their national heritage, the extent of their affiliation with their original culture and the language they speak at home. In short, the most important lesson for marketers and retailers looking to learn about how individual Hispanic food shoppers fill their shopping carts is that there may be no such thing as a typical “Hispanic” food shopper.
This is an important realization U.S. food retailers must accept in order to reach this fiscally potent and increasingly influential consumer segment, according to Packaged Facts. Spending on food at grocery and other food stores by Latino consumers has risen more than 80 percent over the past 10 years, a growth rate more than double that of U.S. consumers on average. Indeed, Hispanic food shoppers now represent a rapidly growing segment of the customer base of grocers throughout the country, with growth coming largely from the continuing dispersal of Latinos into areas not traditionally known for having substantial Hispanic populations, says David Sprinkle, Packaged Facts research director.
Where Latinos have landed in their nationwide dispersal is among the key factors influencing what they purchase and how retailers can best attract their patronage. In Los Angeles, for example, stocking the shelves for the Hispanic food shopper means understanding the preferences and traditions of shoppers who are mainly Mexican but also include a substantial population of Salvadorans and Guatemalans. In Miami food stores need to satisfy the expectations of Cubans, Colombians, Venezuelans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans. In New York they need to cater to Puerto Ricans and Dominicans along with shoppers from a variety of other countries in Central and South America.
Hispanic food shoppers of diverse national heritages react in different ways to Spanish-language labeling because of wide variations in language use and/or degree of acculturation. Puerto Ricans and South Americans are least likely to say Spanish-language labeling helps them in the store, while Cubans and Central Americans are most likely.
Food and beverage preferences can vary widely as well. For example, the households of Spanish-dominant Latinos and those with a high degree of attachment to their original culture are nearly five times as likely as food shoppers on average and around four times more likely than bilingual/English-dominant Latino food shoppers to have bought Cornish game hen in the past seven days. Veal is another type of meat enjoying a much higher-than-average degree of popularity among Spanish dominant food shoppers.
Compared to households of food shoppers with a low degree of identification with their original culture, those who have a high degree of identification are more likely to drink sparkling water, still bottled water and thirst-quencher drinks. Consumption of ground coffee also is closely related to language use and degree of acculturation. Households of bilingual/English-dominant food shoppers are twice as likely as their Spanish dominant counterparts to drink relatively large quantities of ground coffee.
While there can be significant differences in food preferences within the Hispanic population, a gap between the purchasing patterns of Hispanic and all food shoppers does persist. There are a variety of food products that Latinos (with the exception of Puerto Ricans and, in a few cases, Mexicans) choose not to buy. These include traditional mainstream American foods such as peanut butter, pretzels and pickles.
Regional American eating habits also can have an impact on Hispanic food preferences. In New York City, for example, Dominicans have begun to challenge the political clout of Puerto Ricans. Yet, Packaged Facts has identified at least one area where Puerto Ricans and Dominicans find common ground. Compared to all food shoppers throughout the country as well as other Hispanic food shoppers, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans are more likely to live in a household that eats bagels. So, when it comes to noshing on bagels, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans act more like New Yorkers than anything else.