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Heritage Grocers Group COO Talks Trajectory Of Cardenas Markets

Prabash Coswatte of Heritage Grocers Group

The Shelby Report recently caught up with Prabash Coswatte, COO of Heritage Grocers Group (Cardenas Markets), to talk about the changing face of Hispanic grocery stores in Southern California.

Can you share a little history on Cardenas Markets and how long the stores have been operating in SoCal?

“In 1981, Jesus Cardenas Sr. and his spouse, Luz, opened the first Cardenas Market in Ontario, California. The brand soon grew to become one of the largest Hispanic grocery chains in the country, offering a differentiated store concept that was focused on providing high-quality, specialty groceries at affordable prices.

“In 2022, Heritage Grocers Group acquired Cardenas Markets, supplying it with the tools to succeed, both offering its strategic vision and the funds and capabilities needed to grow. 

“Cardenas Markets, which now operates a network of 65 stores, are strategically situated across various markets, including the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas, as well as the cities of Las Vegas and Phoenix. 

“Today, our brand is celebrated for its dedication to serving diverse communities with an extensive selection of quality products and superior customer service. 

“We operate stores ranging from 18,000 to 70,000 square feet and employ about 6,000 team members.”

Cardenas American Heart Association

What sets your stores apart from other grocers in the area? 

“Cardenas is dedicated to assisting families in preserving their cherished traditions within the U.S. Our commitment to providing Hispanic products is unwavering, with an emphasis on freshness, authenticity and affordability. 

“Our understanding of the diverse preferences of Latino consumer groups enables us to offer exceptional services across various departments, including our Panadería (bakery), Cremería (deli), Pastelería (pastry), Cocina (kitchen), Tortillería (tortilla shop) and Carnicería (butchery). 

“We take pride in our selection of unique, international and locally sourced perishables, as well as authentic prepared foods from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Our kitchen is renowned for its traditional Latino dishes, crafted from original family recipes, providing an authentic culinary experience. These are the compelling reasons why shoppers choose Cardenas over other options for their grocery needs.”

Can you expand on what your mission is and the values your company hold closest?

“Our core values – work hard, keep it simple, teamwork, empowered, integrity, humble and smart – are the bedrock of our company’s culture and guide our actions every day. They are essential because:

“Work hard: We believe in the power of diligence and perseverance. Hard work is the engine that drives our success, ensuring we meet our goals and exceed expectations.

“Keep it simple: Complexity can be a barrier to efficiency and understanding. By keeping processes straightforward, we enhance productivity and clarity for both team members and customers.

“Teamwork: Collaboration and mutual support are key to achieving greatness. We foster an environment where every team member can contribute and feel valued.

“Empowered: Empowering our employees leads to innovation and a sense of ownership. When our team feels confident and capable, they deliver exceptional service.

“Integrity: Honesty and ethical behavior build trust with our customers and among our team. It’s the foundation of lasting relationships and a reputable business.

“Humble and smart: We approach our work with humility, always willing to learn and improve. Being smart means making informed decisions that benefit everyone involved.

“Our mission, ‘To be the most admired and respected Hispanic grocery company in the country, supporting our communities with the freshest, most authentic products at prices that make it possible for them to feed their families,’ is our North Star. It reminds us that our purpose goes beyond profit – it’s about enriching lives and nurturing communities.

“This mission drives us to treat our team members with respect and serve our customers with unwavering dedication. It’s not just what we do – it’s who we are.”

What more can you tell me about Heritage Grocers? 

“Heritage Grocers Group is the result of a unification of two esteemed grocery chains – Cardenas Markets and Tony’s Fresh Market. This strategic alliance has formed a new entity committed to serving and connecting diverse communities.

“Our group offers a wide range of traditional and ethnic specialty food items, reflecting the rich tapestry of the cultures we serve. In July, we expanded our presence into Texas through the acquisition of El Rancho Supermercado, a move that aligns with our dedication to growth and community service. 

“Heritage Grocers Group stands as a testament to our commitment to diversity, quality and the communities that we are privileged to serve.”

What does a typical neighborhood look like that you operate in? 

“Cardenas Markets operates in neighborhoods that are vibrant and diverse, reflecting the rich Hispanic heritage we are proud to serve. These areas are typically urban and suburban, bustling with activity and a sense of community. 

“Our stores are strategically located to be accessible to our customers, offering a welcoming atmosphere where families can find an array of fresh, authentic products.”

What are some of the unique aspects of operating a store in Southern California? 

“Cultural connection: Cardenas Markets is deeply rooted in the Hispanic culture, offering an authentic shopping experience that resonates with the community’s values and traditions.

“Diverse product selection: The stores provide an extensive assortment of traditional and ethnic specialty food items, catering to the tastes and preferences of a diverse customer base.

“Community focus: Cardenas Markets is more than just a grocery store — it’s a community hub where customers are treated like family and can enjoy a sense of belonging.”

How would you describe your typical customer? 

“Cardenas Markets serves a customer base that is as diverse and vibrant as the communities we operate in. 

“Our customers are predominantly from Hispanic backgrounds. They are individuals and families who value authentic Hispanic culture and cuisine, and who seek out the traditional and ethnic food items that Cardenas specializes in providing.

“Our customers are discerning shoppers who appreciate the freshness, quality and authenticity of our offerings, and who rely on us for ingredients that are integral to their cultural and family traditions.”

What economic factors are at play in this market? 

“At Cardenas, we recognize the socio-economic pressures faced by many of our customers, particularly in these challenging times. Rising living costs and economic uncertainties can strain household budgets, making it difficult for families to afford the fresh, quality products they need and deserve.

“Despite these challenges, Cardenas remains steadfast in our commitment to providing the freshest and highest quality products at the most affordable prices. We understand that our customers rely on us for their daily needs, and we take this responsibility seriously. Our mission and values are centered around supporting our communities, and this is reflected in our pricing strategies and product selections.”

What are the challenges you face as a grocer operating in this region?

“One of the significant challenges we encounter is the recruitment and retention of skilled labor. The industry has seen a dramatic shift in the workforce landscape, with a growing need for a diverse set of skills to meet the evolving demands of the market. 

“This situation is further compounded by the tight labor market and the high attrition rates that the grocery sector faces, making it imperative for us to evolve our talent models to focus on employee experience, digitalization and reskilling.

“To address these challenges, we are committed to investing in our employees through training and development programs, offering competitive wages and benefits and fostering a work environment that values diversity, inclusion and career growth opportunities. By doing so, we aim to build a resilient and skilled workforce that can adapt to the dynamic needs of the grocery industry in the areas we operate.”

What are some of the ways you help employees grow and advance?

‘Cardenas Markets is dedicated to fostering a work environment that is ripe with opportunities for growth and advancement. We understand that our team members are the cornerstone of our success, and we are committed to their professional development. A few of the ways we support our team members in their career journey include:

“Training programs: We offer comprehensive training programs designed to equip our employees with the skills necessary to excel in their current roles and prepare them for future responsibilities. These programs cover a wide range of topics, from customer service excellence to leadership development.

“Performance management: We have a robust performance management system that recognizes and rewards hard work and dedication. Regular evaluations ensure that employees receive constructive feedback, which they can use to hone their skills and advance within the company.

“Leadership opportunities: We identify and nurture potential leaders within our ranks, offering them opportunities to take on more significant roles. By investing in leadership training, we prepare our employees to become the future leaders of Cardenas Markets.

What can we expect next? 

“Growth is an intrinsic part of Cardenas Markets’ ethos. It is woven into the very fabric of our operations and aspirations. We have always envisioned a future where our reach extends further, allowing us to serve an ever-growing number of customers. 

“Our trajectory has been marked by thoughtful growth, ensuring that with every new store opening, every product line expansion, and every community initiative, we are not just growing in size but also in value. We are dedicated to maintaining this momentum, continually seeking opportunities to bring the Cardenas Markets experience to new markets.”

Read more independent store news from The Shelby Report.

About the author

Sommer Stockton

Web Editor

Sommer joined The Shelby Report in January 2022 after graduating from Brenau University in Gainesville, GA with a B.A. and M.A. in Communications and Media Studies. Sommer is excited to learn about the grocery industry and share her findings with The Shelby Report's readers!

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