IGA MEMBER LAUNCHES SPANISH-AD PROGRAM

LAKE CITY, S.C. -- W. Lee Flowers & Co. is launching a series of monthly ad circulars in 2002 devoted solely to the Hispanic community, with a special emphasis on fresh foods.The company, a wholesaler that owns and operates 25 IGA stores in the Carolinas and Georgia, gave the circulars several trial flights over the last year and a half and has been pleased with the results, officials said."We had

LAKE CITY, S.C. -- W. Lee Flowers & Co. is launching a series of monthly ad circulars in 2002 devoted solely to the Hispanic community, with a special emphasis on fresh foods.

The company, a wholesaler that owns and operates 25 IGA stores in the Carolinas and Georgia, gave the circulars several trial flights over the last year and a half and has been pleased with the results, officials said.

"We had done maybe two or three a year and that was on a sporadic basis, but just [recently] I met with our Mexican foods supplier and we decided to do this on a regular, monthly schedule. It will be a four-page, full-color insert in Spanish and, for the first time, they'll be distributed in two Spanish-language newspapers," said J. Douglas Stone, advertising director at W. Lee Flowers.

At least 50% of the circular will be devoted to products from the IGA stores' fresh departments. In one of its first Spanish-language circulars, London broil, mangoes and corn tortillas were featured on the front page. The company's retail stores have strong produce and meat departments and it just so happens that those departments are destinations for Hispanic consumers, Stone said. So is the dairy department.

In fact, the dairy case is the site of a gathering of Hispanic-favored products in the company's IGA stores. Statistics show that Hispanics are big consumers of dairy products, including custard-type desserts and drinkable yogurts. But W. Lee Flowers also began to add items like huge bags of corn tortillas and white cheeses known to be popular in the Hispanic community.

"Those 100-count bags of corn tortillas are more than a must if you want to appeal to the Mexican consumer," Stone said.

Overall the company has added more 200 Hispanic-focused items, including dry grocery, and it continues to broaden its inventory and to add some Spanish-language signs in the stores.

"We don't want to alienate anybody so we're careful to not overwhelm non-Hispanic customers with Spanish language everywhere. But if you're Hispanic you'll notice the signs and we haven't had any complaints from anyone," Stone said.

Meanwhile, both the company's wholesale and retail operations have seen 6% annual growth for the past five years, he pointed out.

An industry observer in the market area noted that some of the IGA stores' competitors appear to have become less aggressive in pursuing the Hispanic consumer.

But in other parts of the country, chains have begun -- in selected stores -- to target Mexican consumers with such items as queso fresco, drinkable yogurts and gelatin desserts. Among the larger ones doing so are Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass.; Giant Food, Landover, Md.; and Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh.

"There are 35 million Hispanics -- that's more than the number of Canadians in Canada -- in this country now, and 70% of them are Mexican," said Allen Lydick, one of the principals in Mexigrocers, a Raleigh, N.C., independent broker that is helping retailers pursue the Mexican consumer.

Lydick went on to say that Hispanics make ideal supermarket customers because they're loyal, they'll willingly pay for quality, they want their products fresh and they budget a large percentage of their income for food.

The items to get exposure in Flowers' ad circulars are not necessarily offered at a special price, Stone said.

"What's important is that the circulars are telling the Spanish-speaking consumer that 'we're here, we have the products you want, these are our everyday, low prices, and we care about your business.' It shows that we've made a long-term commitment to the Hispanic community."

Getting the right inventory in place is one hurdle to get over and then letting the Hispanic community know it's available is another.

"It has been a challenge to actually reach them because many in our markets are new immigrants and they don't read or speak much English," Stone said. "So they're not going to pick up newspapers that we've traditionally used for our advertising."

One of the most effective ways he's found to reach the ears and eyes of Hispanics is to do some footwork. The ad circulars have made their way into laundromats, cultural organizations, social agencies and Catholic church organizations, Stone said.