There have been few marketing efforts aimed at Hispanic consumers. But that's about to change with a new marketing push by the National Pork Board.

"The Hispanic market is growing, not only in major urban areas but in unexpected areas," says John Hagerla, NPB's vice president of retail marketing. He points to Indiana, where the Hispanic population has more than doubled, primarily in the Indianapolis area; and North Carolina, where this population segment grew by more than 393 percent, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

"Not only is the Hispanic market large, but buying power is strong," he notes. Take Los Angeles, Hispanics make up 39 percent of the population, but 56 percent of total grocery expenditures.

As a whole, Hispanic food and beverage spending in the United States increased 248 percent while in the general market it grew only 113 percent, according to Standard & Poor's DRI, October 2000. (See sidebar for more Hispanic facts).

These examples alone are reason enough for the pork industry to tap into this virtually untouched market. But there are several challenges.

"The key for supermarket chains is to appeal to the growing market segments without alienating retailers' core customers," explains Hagerla. "Also, supermarkets are trying to balance an efficient national marketing program with localized Hispanic programs and maintain profitability."

This is where the San Jose Group plays a major role in NPB's efforts to reach the Hispanic market. The Chicago-based Hispanic marketing agency came on board last year to help NPB develop a strategic marketing plan to increase pork demand and consumption among Hispanic consumers.

Last fall, SJG conducted several focus groups to assess Hispanic consumers' perceptions, shopping habits and consumption patterns related to pork. In all, SJG surveyed 10 groups in five different markets based on Hispanic population density and ethnic diversity. The cities were Miami, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Phoenix.

The focus groups revealed some interesting insights. Researchers found that pork is widely consumed in Hispanic households, but it is likely limited to traditional dishes.

In addition, the barriers to consuming pork among Hispanics are far different than those among non-Hispanic consumers. For instance, while Hispanic consumers consider pork to be the best tasting meat, they believe it to be less healthy (high in fat and cholesterol) than chicken or beef. Whereas non-Hispanic consumers believe pork offers a viable alternative to chicken, and that it's just as low in fat, cholesterol and calories.

While these findings tend to suggest that diet and health awareness among Hispanics is increasing, it's not at the top of their list. Taste and tradition take priority over healthful choices. Many Hispanics did say they would like to be better informed on diet and health.

Even bigger barriers in reaching Hispanic consumers are safety-related issues. That mindset is a result of experiences Hispanic consumers have had in their home countries where hogs were often raised in rustic conditions and quality was poor.

Specifically, these experiences raise the age-old questions and concerns about pork's connection to Trichinosis. To guard against the parasitic disease, participants say they ate pork less frequently, and always washed and cooked it well. However, they don't have a common definition of what cooking it "well" means. This insight shows that the U.S. pork industry's Trichinae-free Pilot Program currently underway will be even more valuable in gaining consumer acceptance of pork. On a positive note, many focus group participants consider U.S. pork to be safer than in their home countries, but that belief wasn't strong enough to combat their fears and concerns. Also, many participants said pork in their home countries was tastier than U.S. pork. (See sidebar for Hispanic consumers' perceptions of meat.)

Aside from the other concerns, how and what message the pork industry communicates is key to an effective Hispanic-marketing program. The industry's "Pork: The Other White Meat" slogan means little to Hispanic consumers because their definitions of "white" meat and "red" meat are different.

For instance, nearly all focus group participants were familiar with the terms "red" and "white" meat, but the majority classified pork as "red" meat. There were some who considered some pork cuts to be "red" meat and others "white" meat.

The research also shows:

  • "White" meat was categorized as chicken, turkey, fish and seafood. White meat was generally considered to be more healthful than "red" meat but perhaps less nutritious. Some participants thought it had less protein and was not as good for your blood.
  • "Red" meat was categorized as beef, pork, lamb and horse. While most participants thought it was higher in protein than "white" meat, they also think it's – greasier, heavier, harder to digest and contains toxins.

Remember these are the perceptions that Hispanic consumers have formulated. The examples point out challenges and opportunities of tapping the Hispanic market.

The driving force behind this marketing interest is profit. "Bottom line, supermarkets will likely lose sales if they don't address the demographic needs within their trade areas," explains Hagerla. "There are trends. More advertisers are featuring Hispanic themes and celebrities. However, these trends have evolved from the growth, demand and spending in the market."

"We see opportunities to tie-in with other products. If there is a product that Hispanics often use with pork, there may be packaging and marketing partnership opportunities," he adds.

So, what's ahead for NPB's Hispanic marketing campaign?

SJG is conducting product-specific research. The goal is to provide more answers about Hispanic consumers' behaviors. For example: How is pork consumed differently among Hispanics? What will increase their pork demand? What kind of packaging and labeling opportunities will surface?

Once more research is complete, NPB will roll out a targeted campaign, says Hagerla. He envisions the marketing program to include radio, outdoor and magazine advertising; retail sales promotions; and a public-relations program. Stay tuned for a sneak peak in next month's issue of Pork.

Just the (Hispanic) Facts
Why all the buzz about Hispanic consumers? Easy, they are a fast-growing consumer segment that will only increase in importance in the years ahead. Here are the facts:

  • The Hispanic population now makes up approximately 37 million or roughly 14 percent of the United State's total population.
  • Many markets, such as Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, Chicago and New York, have Hispanic populations that are as high as 40 percent of the total.
  • Hispanics are moving into other less-traditional regions of the United States, creating more marketing opportunities for and demands on businesses.
  • Hispanics represent $562 billion in purchasing power and are currently growing 10 times faster than the general U.S. population.
  • Hispanics are the only U.S. consumer segment to have shown a consistent growth rate in the last 30 consecutive years, averaging a 60 percent increase during every U.S. Census since 1970.
  • The non-Hispanic white population has grown only 7.6 percent during that same period.
  • Hispanics have an average of 3.6 members per household vs. 2.6 found in the mass market.
  • Hispanics have a mean household income of $43,500 per year.
  • Hispanic consumers spend a larger percentage of discretionary income on many goods and services than do mass-market consumers.
  • Sixty percent of the Hispanic population prefers to communicate and be reached in Spanish.
  • The Hispanic population is efficient to target; advertisers can reach 90 percent of any given Hispanic metro area at practically 1/10th the cost of doing the same in the mass market.

Source: National Pork Board, The San Jose Group

From the Hispanic Perspective

Perception is an important driver when it comes to meat consumption, and Hispanic consumers are no exception. Based on the National Pork Board's consumer focus groups, here's what Hispanics think about pork, beef and chicken.

Pork

  • Considered to be "the most delicious."
  • Cited as a protein that makes it to the table once or twice a week – Hispanic consumers in Phoenix eat it everyday.
  • Tends to be consumed throughout the day (similar to mass-market consumption patterns).
  • Linked to tradition and holidays, but also consumed on an every-day basis.

Beef

  • Considered to be very tasty, although some consider it bad for your colon.
  • There appears to be slightly less health/safety concerns about eating beef vs. pork. In fact, meat in general is though to be more nutritious/better for your blood than poultry.

Chicken

  • Poultry is thought to be more healthful in terms of having less fat and cholesterol than beef and pork, it is not considered to be as nutritious.
  • In terms of taste, pork and beef are easily superior to chicken.

Source: National Pork Board, The San Jose Group