'EXOTIC' MEAT

NEW YORK -- Sheep heads, lamb's eyes, pig's feet and good ol' pork intestines. These items, sold in a number of select supermarket meat cases, may not appeal to most Americans, but they're part of the traditional diets enjoyed by a number of ethnic groups.And in the supermarket industry, as in any retail industry, it's important for retailers to recognize the unique ethnic compositions of the various

NEW YORK -- Sheep heads, lamb's eyes, pig's feet and good ol' pork intestines. These items, sold in a number of select supermarket meat cases, may not appeal to most Americans, but they're part of the traditional diets enjoyed by a number of ethnic groups.

And in the supermarket industry, as in any retail industry, it's important for retailers to recognize the unique ethnic compositions of the various neighborhoods in which they operate, and adjust their product mixes accordingly.

For many companies, this means operating a small percentage of their locations differently from their other units -- and keying into the unique requests and demands born of various ethnic backgrounds.

In some cases, the need to accommodate various ethnic communities may be the result of demographic shifts or new store openings -- two changes that often force supermarket companies to embrace a customer base with unique buying patterns.

Such was the case at Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., and O'Malia Food Markets, Carmel, Ind.

When Hispanic workers first answered the call for labor in northwest Arkansas' poultry-processing plants about three years ago, Mirl Hull, director of meat and seafood operations for Harps, didn't expect the ensuing demographic shift to prompt changes in any of his chain's 42 stores.

But that's exactly what happened. Late last month, Hull began revamping the meat departments in three of the company's stores affected by the area's recently arrived Hispanic population. The changes, which included the increase of department space by almost 100% and the use of bilingual signage, were part of a store-wide restructuring expected to be rolled out within the next few months to the other 12 or so locations affected.

"Three years ago about 10% or less of our customers in those stores were Hispanic, but today the figure is about 25% and climbing," said Hull, adding that the chain took a hard look at its new customer base during the past year and decided that the Hispanic community is "here to stay" and comprised of "big spenders" looking for the type and cut of meat they've traditionally used when cooking.

At Harps, that's meant offering pork shoulder, bone-in chuck and other less-expensive meats that play a key role in the traditional Hispanic diet, as well as a number of meats -- such as chuck, pork and skirt steaks -- that are very thinly sliced, and others that are sold in larger cuts that can be divided into smaller portions at home.

When O'Malia Food Markets, an eight-store independent, opened a new location in 1983, it had never before serviced a strong Jewish customer base. Since that time, the company has learned much about traditional Jewish dishes and kosher items, and has adjusted its meat case accordingly, according to Joe Moore, director of meat operations.

"Our customer base at that particular store is about 70% Jewish, and, as a result, we've dedicated about 15% to 20% of our meat offerings to kosher items," said Moore, who has added a kosher section in the store's frozen section and separated it with a Plexiglas partition in order to conform to kosher rules.

Although Moore admits that his customers would prefer fresh kosher items, he says that product sourcing makes carrying such items virtually impossible.

The items carried, which are supplied from kosher manufacturers, include kiska, 40 to 50 varieties of salami, bolognas, poultry, pastrami and roast beef.

store openings -- two changes that often force supermarket companies to embrace a customer base with unique buying patterns.

Such was the case at Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., and O'Malia Food Markets, Carmel, Ind.

When Hispanic workers first answered the call for labor in northwest Arkansas' poultry-processing plants about three years ago, Mirl Hull, director of meat and seafood operations for Harps, didn't expect the ensuing demographic shift to prompt changes in any of his chain's 42 stores.

But that's exactly what happened. Late last month, Hull began revamping the meat departments in three of the company's stores affected by the area's recently arrived Hispanic population. The changes, which included the increase of department space by almost 100% and the use of bilingual signage, were part of a store-wide restructuring expected to be rolled out within the next few months to the other 12 or so locations affected.

"Three years ago about 10% or less of our customers in those stores were Hispanic, but today the figure is about 25% and climbing," said Hull, adding that the chain took a hard look at its new customer base during the past year and decided that the Hispanic community is "here to stay" and comprised of "big spenders" looking for the type and cut of meat they've traditionally used when cooking.

At Harps, that's meant offering pork shoulder, bone-in chuck and other less-expensive meats that play a key role in the traditional Hispanic diet, as well as a number of meats -- such as chuck, pork and skirt steaks -- that are very thinly sliced, and others that are sold in larger cuts that can be divided into smaller portions at home.

When O'Malia Food Markets, an eight-store independent, opened a new location in 1983, it had never before serviced a strong Jewish customer base. Since that time, the company has learned much about traditional Jewish dishes and kosher items, and has adjusted its meat case accordingly, according to Joe Moore, director of meat operations.

"Our customer base at that particular store is about 70% Jewish, and, as a result, we've dedicated about 15% to 20% of our meat offerings to kosher items," said Moore, who has added a kosher section in the store's frozen section and separated it with a Plexiglas partition in order to conform to kosher rules.

Although Moore admits that his customers would prefer fresh kosher items, he says that product sourcing makes carrying such items virtually impossible.

The items carried, which are supplied from kosher manufacturers, include kiska, 40 to 50 varieties of salami, bolognas, poultry, pastrami and roast beef. Only about 10% of the items are offered at the company's other locations.

O'Malia has also catered to a number of other ethnic communities over the years, including an Arab population that wanted "skinned sheep heads," "lamb's eyes" and "whole goats."

Although Moore said he stopped short of actually taking out the lamb's eyes, he did accommodate the requests for the other two items during the few years that the Arab population was in the area due to a then-operational nearby military base.

Moore said there is still a small Arab population in his marketing area and, therefore, he fills an occasional request for a whole goat during certain Muslim holidays.

At Carr Gottstein Foods, a 49-store chain based in Anchorage, Alaska, many of the company's stores have an offal section, which includes such items as livers, pig's feet, pig's ears and beef tongues, as well as tripe and chitlins -- also know as cow's stomach and pork intestines.

The section, which covers about 4 to 6 linear feet in a typical store's meat case, appeals mostly to customers of Mexican, African-American and Arab backgrounds, according to Guy Forbes, the company's meat and seafood merchandiser.

Although Forbes, like Hull from Harps, says that many of the ethnic-based items are priced inexpensively, he believes that it's cultural heritage -- rather than economic restraints -- that are fueling much of the sales.

"At one time, some of these items may have been chosen for economic reasons but, today, I think it's a personal choice," said Forbes, adding that some of the items are no longer priced below more costly fare.

Hull also believes that it's custom, rather than economics, that is prompting the Hispanic population to buy less expensive cuts and very thinly sliced meats, as well as bigger, more economical cuts that can be divided into smaller portions at home.

"It's just their culture, and their method of cooking," he said.

The importance of tailoring a store's product mix to meet the specific needs of various ethnic groups within a particular area should not be underestimated, according to Bob Bregenzer, senior vice president of corporate communications for Information Resources Inc., a marketing research firm based in Chicago.

As an example of how customer demand differs from store-to-store, Bregenzer cites a product test that his company conducted nationwide, and then throughout the city of Chicago.

A brand-name product, which was introduced to 64 cities across the country, captured a market share ranging from 5.8% in Little Rock, Ark., to 27.6% in Cleveland.

"There was a tremendous difference in the spread, but it's easy to see that Cleveland is very different from Little Rock," said Bregenzer, adding that the real difference came when the company tested the product in 50 to 60 stores throughout the Chicago area.

"The market share ranged from 4.9% to 35.5% -- a bigger range than had occurred throughout the nation," he said. "It's not really a surprise, though, because there are so many different, ethnic neighborhoods in a city like Chicago."

But how, retailers might ask, does a company become aware of the particular ethnic make-up of its various customer bases. According to Moore of O'Malia's, "You don't have to guess. It's consumer-driven, with your customers telling you what they want."

Other retailers interviewed by SN echoed his sentiments. At Food Circus Supermarkets, an 11-store independent in Middletown, N.J., Joe Murdico, the company's meat director, said the company monitors customer requests and comments through survey forms located in each store.

"The customer is definitely our guide," said Murdico, who caters to a Jewish community in one of his stores by devoting about 15% of the meat category to kosher items.

Al Kingstreiter, the meat-department manager at V. Richard's, a one-store independent in Brookfield, Wis., that caters to a mostly German community, agrees that "it's highly important" to recognize the market being serviced and provide the most desired product mix.

Such one-on-one strategies have served the industry well over the years, but the trend toward consolidation, and the mega-companies it produces, may require a more technologically based answer for the future.

Those were the thoughts behind this year's introduction of a "powerful" geo-demographic data base program by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Spectra Marketing Systems, both based in Chicago.

The program, which is designed to determine fresh-meat buying patterns based on very defined customer profiles, is slated to be tested in a division of one of the largest major supermarket chains this fall, according to Kevin Yost, executive director of channel marketing for the NCBA, who declined to reveal the chain's identity.

If all goes well, the NCBA will be "really aggressive" in expanding the program throughout the industry, starting in the first two quarters of 1999, said Yost.

"The program allows today's large retailer to customize his marketing to a neighborhood level," he said, adding that it also serves smaller retailers by helping to sharpen their focus and confirm their marketing intuitions.

The program operates on the premise that "like people will have similar behaviors, regardless of where they live," said Yost. "For example, an upper-middle class Hispanic family in Chicago will have the same buying patterns as an upper-middle class Hispanic family in Portland." Only about 10% of the items are offered at the company's other locations.

O'Malia has also catered to a number of other ethnic communities over the years, including an Arab population that wanted "skinned sheep heads," "lamb's eyes" and "whole goats."

Although Moore said he stopped short of actually taking out the lamb's eyes, he did accommodate the requests for the other two items during the few years that the Arab population was in the area due to a then-operational nearby military base.

Moore said there is still a small Arab population in his marketing area and, therefore, he fills an occasional request for a whole goat during certain Muslim holidays.

At Carr Gottstein Foods, a 49-store chain based in Anchorage, Alaska, many of the company's stores have an offal section, which includes such items as livers, pig's feet, pig's ears and beef tongues, as well as tripe and chitlins -- also know as cow's stomach and pork intestines.

The section, which covers about 4 to 6 linear feet in a typical store's meat case, appeals mostly to customers of Mexican, African-American and Arab backgrounds, according to Guy Forbes, the company's meat and seafood merchandiser.

Although Forbes, like Hull from Harps, says that many of the ethnic-based items are priced inexpensively, he believes that it's cultural heritage -- rather than economic restraints -- that are fueling much of the sales.

"At one time, some of these items may have been chosen for economic reasons but, today, I think it's a personal choice," said Forbes, adding that some of the items are no longer priced below more costly fare.

Hull also believes that it's custom, rather than economics, that is prompting the Hispanic population to buy less expensive cuts and very thinly sliced meats, as well as bigger, more economical cuts that can be divided into smaller portions at home.

"It's just their culture, and their method of cooking," he said.

The importance of tailoring a store's product mix to meet the specific needs of various ethnic groups within a particular area should not be underestimated, according to Bob Bregenzer, senior vice president of corporate communications for Information Resources Inc., a marketing research firm based in Chicago.

As an example of how customer demand differs from store-to-store, Bregenzer cites a product test that his company conducted nationwide, and then throughout the city of Chicago.

A brand-name product, which was introduced to 64 cities across the country, captured a market share ranging from 5.8% in Little Rock, Ark., to 27.6% in Cleveland.

"There was a tremendous difference in the spread, but it's easy to see that Cleveland is very different from Little Rock," said Bregenzer, adding that the real difference came when the company tested the product in 50 to 60 stores throughout the Chicago area.

"The market share ranged from 4.9% to 35.5% -- a bigger range than had occurred throughout the nation," he said. "It's not really a surprise, though, because there are so many different, ethnic neighborhoods in a city like Chicago."

But how, retailers might ask, does a company become aware of the particular ethnic make-up of its various customer bases. According to Moore of O'Malia's, "You don't have to guess. It's consumer-driven, with your customers telling you what they want."

Other retailers interviewed by SN echoed his sentiments.

At Food Circus Supermarkets, an 11-store independent in Middletown, N.J., Joe Murdico, the company's meat director, said the company monitors customer requests and comments through survey forms located in each store.

"The customer is definitely our guide," said Murdico, who caters to a Jewish community in one of his stores by devoting about 15% of the meat category to kosher items.

Al Kingstreiter, the meat-department manager at V. Richard's, a one-store independent in Brookfield, Wis., that caters to a mostly German community, agrees that "it's highly important" to recognize the market being serviced and provide the most desired product mix.

Such one-on-one strategies have served the industry well over the years, but the trend toward consolidation, and the mega-companies it produces, may require a more technologically based answer for the future.

Those were the thoughts behind this year's introduction of a "powerful" geo-demographic data base program by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Spectra Marketing Systems, both based in Chicago.

The program, which is designed to determine fresh-meat buying patterns based on very defined customer profiles, is slated to be tested in a division of one of the largest major supermarket chains this fall, according to Kevin Yost, executive director of channel marketing for the NCBA, who declined to reveal the chain's identity.

If all goes well, the NCBA will be "really aggressive" in expanding the program throughout the industry, starting in the first two quarters of 1999, said Yost.

"The program allows today's large retailer to customize his marketing to a neighborhood level," he said, adding that it also serves smaller retailers by helping to sharpen their focus and confirm their marketing intuitions.

The program operates on the premise that "like people will have similar behaviors, regardless of where they live," said Yost. "For example, an upper-middle class Hispanic family in Chicago will have the same buying patterns as an upper-middle class Hispanic family in Portland."