Food Companies Targeting Hispanic Consumer

From "Tony el Tigre" on Frosted Flakes boxes to a Latin-dance exercise video, Kellogg's is in hot pursuit of Hispanic grocery shoppers.

It's not alone.

With young families and growing numbers, Hispanics are among the food industry's most coveted customers. Kellogg Co. (K), the nation's dominant cereal maker, says it's boosting marketing to Hispanics by 60 percent.

"Obviously, we care about kids — lots of our products are focused on children and the whole family," said Sandra Uridge, senior director multicultural business. "Hispanics actually do what we call 'event' shopping. They go as a family to the store."

Kellogg's took the unusual step of focusing solely on Hispanic marketing at this week's Food Marketing Institute Show, the annual trade show for supermarkets in Chicago.

And the company is just one example.

Unilever, maker of Hellmann's, Lipton and Skippy, among other brands, released results at the show of a study on how Hispanic customers shop for food.

Unilever had about 800 Hispanic households keep diaries and receipts from 3,621 trips to the store. The survey found that Hispanic shoppers tend to plan their shopping ahead, more so than shoppers generally, with an eye toward discount specials.

"Many retailers today don't have a large percentage of Hispanics in the marketplace, and yet everybody will as time goes on," said Mike Twitty, a senior group research manager for Unilever.

Hispanics are the youngest, fastest-growing segment of the American population, according to the Census Bureau.

They were 14 percent of the population in 2004 but made up nearly half the nation's growth from 2000 to 2004. Their median age, just under 27 years, is younger than the general population. The median age is just over 31 years for blacks and just over 40 years for white non-Hispanics.

Hispanics are driving what little growth there is in supermarket shopping, said Libbey Paul, a senior vice president of marketing at ACNielsen, the marketing information company.

"They tend to be larger households, have more kids and a higher growth rate," Paul said. "You can understand why Kellogg's would care, why Coke would care."

ACNielsen has begun measuring sales to Hispanics by looking at demographics and sales at individual stores.

Tony the Tiger, who says, "They're g-r-r-reat!" in Kellogg's ads, says, "G-r-r-riquisimos!" in Spanish-language promotions.

However, marketing by stores and food companies goes far beyond Spanish-language packages and ads.

Supermarkets are looking at the categories that Hispanics seem to buy more of — things that large, young families need, such as toothpaste, and products that younger adults want to buy, such as beer, Paul said.

And food companies are looking at the tastes and flavors that Hispanics want, such as citrus and berry flavors, according to ACNielsen. For example, Unilever created a Hellman's mayonnaise with lemon specifically for the Hispanic market.

Many companies are only now realizing the impact of Hispanics as a group. Paul said recent immigration rallies around the country shows that Hispanic influence has reached "a tipping point."

"They've become more politically and socially visible; it's never been this vocal," she said.