LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. -- With cultural and ethnic consumer demographics changing so quickly, retailers are finding it difficult to satisfy the needs of a more diverse shopping clientele.
Many retailers are turning to less conventional produce items with the hopes of attracting a wider clientele, according to Karen Caplan, president of Frieda's, a specialty produce company based here.
"It's a challenge," Caplan said. "What we're hearing from retailers is that they're gaining all this demographic information, and that they know there are not just separate pockets of individual consumers shopping in stores, and they want to make as many people happy as possible.
"They look at the nonconventional produce items as a way to service the needs of a continually [changing] produce shopper."
But retailers can get caught in a number of traps, Caplan said, especially when they do not truly know their clientele.
"We've gone into stores where [retailers] say, 'Twenty percent of people who shop our stores are Cuban,' so they have this huge Cubanic section," she said.
"They may not know that they [Cubans] shop at a local market down the street, or that they also have a high Asian population or a high German population."
The key to being successful in these diverse markets is knowledge of who the clients are. For instance, a retailer may set out to devote space to his Hispanic shoppers.
"He says, 'I'm going to put an Hispanic set in -- I'm going to look at Mexican items,' " Caplan said. "They may not be aware that their shoppers are Cuban, or Guatemalan or Brazilian.
"You have to really find out what the demographics are -- it's not Hispanic, it's Guatemalan or Mexican or Colombian," she said. "And then find out which fresh produce items are in demand."
This means knowing what shoppers at particular stores want, and while there are numerous ways to speculate about demographics, Caplan said she knows of no better way than face-to-face communication.
"I personally think the best way to do that is ask your shoppers," Caplan said. Caplan suggests retailers train produce personnel to "work the floor" in the department, to get a feel for what shoppers want.
"Make a note and make sure that's what the produce manager is ordering."
Caplan said simply stocking the most eclectic produce selection, just for variety's sake, is probably not the answer.
"If they have 700 items in their produce department, they're either going to be collecting a lot of dust, or are just going to get thrown out,"
Caplan said. However, it is important for retailers to focus on the items that are important to shoppers, she added.