ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill., has done a two-pronged study showing that, contrary to popular food retailer opinion, Hispanic shoppers buy more of certain frozen products than do the general market shoppers. In addition, delving more deeply into Homescan results, the study shows that, in general, the more acculturated they are, the more likely Hispanics are to purchase frozen foods.With the researcher's

ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill., has done a two-pronged study showing that, contrary to popular food retailer opinion, Hispanic shoppers buy more of certain frozen products than do the general market shoppers. In addition, delving more deeply into Homescan results, the study shows that, in general, the more acculturated they are, the more likely Hispanics are to purchase frozen foods.

With the researcher's Scantrack ethnic service, stores are clustered in areas with a 50% or greater Hispanic population, based on U.S. Census data, said Matt Bell, spokesman for ACNielsen. Product sales from those stores are compared against such sales in stores in the general market, and indices are generated. An index of 100 means it's the same as the general market. An index of 258 for frozen grape juice, for example, which was the top-indexing item in Los Angeles stores, means the shoppers are more than two and a half times as likely to buy that item than is a shopper from the mainstream.

Six markets were tapped: Chicago, Miami, Houston, New York, Los Angeles and San Antonio.

In addition, the Homescan report of consumer behavior drilled deeper into the Los Angeles market, for the period from Dec. 26, 1999, to Dec. 23, 2000. Using Universal Product Codes scanned in 1,300 households of Hispanic origin, it found an index of only 46 for the frozen food department among those who spoke Spanish only, increasing to 71 among bilingual shoppers and reaching 99 for those who spoke English only or preferred English.

In addition, the dollar-volume index showed the same pattern, but actually rose higher than the mainstream for the most acculturated group. The non-Hispanic dollar volume indexed at 105. The group that prefers Spanish only indexed at 40, by contrast. Those comfortable in both languages indexed at 72, while the English-only group registered an index of 138.

Isabel Valdes, a partner in Santiago Valdes Solutions, San Francisco, worked with ACNielsen on this study, which tracked 1,200 categories. Comparatively speaking, she told SN, the frozen food industry has been a little shy in targeting the Hispanic market. "They don't know what we can do with sales, unless they have a well-designed campaign," said Valdes, who was born in Chile but is now an American citizen and has lived here 27 years. "In the beginning, it didn't occur to me to get things like frozen pastries, pasta, waffles and other things I didn't know existed. If they had been advertised on Spanish-language television, I would have known."

Valdes said among the focus groups she worked with, women would be cooking at home while the television played the novellas, or soap operas. "When the commercials come on, they stop cooking and look at the television. It's the opposite of here [American behavior]. This is an information-hungry consumer. They want to learn."

Among the frozen food industry, Pillsbury -- with its Doughboy -- stands out, she said, for reaching out to the Hispanic consumer.

The frozen juice category, however, indexed highest: at 136 among the newest arrivals speaking Spanish only. It dropped to 131 among bilingual shoppers and dropped to 82 as English was preferred. The opposite happened with six other categories. Frozen breakfast foods, for example, got an index of 50 among Spanish speakers, while bilingual speakers bought this category at an index of 83, topping at 132 for those who spoke or preferred English only. This was the trend among the other frozen categories as well, which were ice cream novelties, unprepared meat or poultry, pizza, snacks and hors d'oeuvres, vegetables and prepared foods. Numbers started out low, increased to the middle group and peaked as English was preferred.

In the individual cities, SN gleaned several comments on the market-specific results.

Eladio Corral, owner of Casa Del Pueblo, an independent store in Chicago, said Hispanic shoppers usually buy fresh food rather than frozen, "except for maybe corn on the cob, mixed vegetables, maybe frozen cakes and waffles." Waffles didn't make the Top 12 in Chicago, although they did in Los Angeles. No orange juice, no frozen meat, Corral continued down the list, no lima beans, but French fries, which were only among the Top 12 in San Antonio. "Ice, everybody buys," Corral said. Ice turned up on the Chicago survey in sixth place, while it was 10th in Houston and fourth in Los Angeles. It didn't appear among Miami's Top 12 at all.

Morrie Notrica, owner of the 32nd Street Market in Los Angeles and four other stores in the region, said he had 196 feet of frozen doors but recently took out 96 feet and replaced it with coffin cases going down the middle of the frozen aisle, selling ice cream out of them. "Our sales tripled," he said. First-generation Hispanics will buy mainly ice cream, among frozen products, he said, but the ACNielsen study pinpoints only two markets, Miami and San Antonio, where bulk ice cream ranks in the Top 12.

Notrica agrees that the second generation and beyond "eat like you and me. They are Americanized. This is the difference between the 1970s, the 1980s and now," he said. "Anything featured on TV will fly. You don't have the little old ladies shopping so much. Wives are working, husbands are working, everybody's working. They eat a lot better today."

He buys ice cream in 5-quart pails and sells 22 pallets of it every week. It used to sell at $2.99 on sale, $3.99 every day, until the butterfat content went up and now it's $4.99 every day, $3.99 on sale. "We've had Breyers, Dreyers and Haagen-Dazs. The higher the prices, the quicker it sold," he said.

He buys frozen yucca root and sells cases of it, and paletas, frozen bars of fresh fruit on a stick featured in a recent (June 21) New York Times story about the Mexican influence on food in New York, in bags of 10 or 12. "It all depends on what part of town you are, and the ethnic mix." Although the Hispanic presence in L.A. has always been mostly from Mexico, now there are Puerto Ricans and Ecuadoreans, Notrica said.

Ken Greenberg, vice president of ACNielsen Homescan, presented the results at a meeting for retail executives held this spring by the National Frozen Food Association, based in Harrisburg, Pa.

"I think it's important to understand all the categories," Greenberg told SN.

"This measure is an important identifier of products that are purchased more by Hispanic consumers, and it gives the retailer the chance to inquire, why is this category doing well?" he said. "Maybe there is a brand in that category that has really spent, trying to develop the category.

"In some cases you have some big brands that are well developed in Latin countries. In other cases, they move to the U.S. and have never seen the whole category before." Valdes told SN about the first time she saw bottled salad dressing, and mistook it for hair tonic, because salad dressing at home was made on the spot out of vinegar or lemon juice and oil.

"Some marketers take it for granted that consumers understand the category or brand," said Greenberg. "Frozen is beginning to emerge, beginning to evolve. A very large group did not have refrigerators at home, and forget microwaves. Now, everybody has microwaves. Pictorials, visuals are universal."

Scanning the UPC codes "is the first time ever in the history of Hispanic marketing in the U.S. that we have a scientific, consistent way to gather data. Before, we had guess-timates. Now in some cases they have margins of error of plus or minus 30% to 40%," said Valdes, who said she studied statistics at Stanford University, Palo Alto, her alma mater.

Using home-scanned data means it does not matter where the item was purchased. "We even got data from products from over the border. In the past, there was no way to get that.

"Secondly, this is a very rigorous scientific sample," she added. "We traveled like crazy to get senior, mature Spanish households, those over 60. ACNielsen was willing to do it right, willing to send people many miles to find them. When you work with migrants, [who are] arriving and moving and leaving at such a different pace, if you don't have a way to manage that, the data is useless. Someone who arrived yesterday has nothing to do with someone like me, here 27 years, or someone born here and lived here all his life."